This devotional plaque shows a a rare representation in relief of Uchchaihshravas, the seven-headed horse that pulls the chariot of Surya, the Hindu sun god. Even rarer, it is in high-grade silver.
It is also inscribed with seven long lines of devanagari script. The saddle also is engraved with further script and there is an additional brief inscription just above Uchchaihshravas’ back.
The purity of the silver, and its consequent softness, has lead to old several cracks or splits appearing in the plaque. Another sheet of silver has subsequently been pinned to the back of the plaque to strengthen it, and now even this backing plate has much wear, age and patina. The age-related loss and the early attempts to stabilise the plaque only add to its visual impact as an item of devotion.
The body of the horse is very finely rendered. It has a prominent tail and the multiple heads are clearly delineated.
The multiple ears of the horse are small and pointed – this is deliberate and also points to the provenance of the piece. These are the ears of the Kathiawari breed of horse from Gujarat and Rajasthan which have such characteristics ears.
Surya is considered the centre of creation, and a source of light, warmth, life and knowledge. He was regarded as the solar deity from very early on. Surya rides in a chariot driven by his charioteer Aruna pulled by seven horses, or by one horse with seven heads (Uchchaihshravas). The chariot has only one wheel, suggesting the annual cycle of the seasons. Aruna has no legs and is the brother of Garuda, whose body protects the world from the scorching sun.
The devotional plaque here is unusual. We are not aware of another quite like it.
Dallapiccola, A.L., Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend, Thames & Hudson, 2002.
Gupta, S.P. (ed.), Masterpieces from the National Museum Collection, National Museum, New Delhi, 1985.