Carved ivory from India’s Sunga period is relatively rare. Sculptural objects from this period typically are of molded terracotta or stone. This pendant, of phallic form, with an eyelet at one end and carved with a yakshi or yakshini figure, was designed to be suspended probably from a necklace. Its shape and the motifs employed on it suggest that it had talismanic properties, probably relating to fertility. Another possible use for the pendant might have been as a small seal.
The carving is finer and more detailed than suggested by the images. The figure wears a pearled necklace, waistband, anklets and bracelets and has large floral-form earrings. The figure stands against a five lobed column that is decorated with pearled ribs.
The piece has the patina that might be expected of a piece of ivory more than 2,000 years old. It is has a walnut-brown colour and the texture of aged wood.
The Sunga (or Shunga) empire was a royal dynasty that controlled much of the eastern part of the Indian sub-continent from around 185 BC to 73 BC. It was founded by Pusyamitra Sunga, the commander-in-chief of the last Mauryan ruler, whom he assassinated. Sunga ruled for 36 years. The Empire’s main capital was at Pataliputra. Hinduism was the state religion. Education and the arts flowered during the period. Terracotta images, larger stone sculptures and various important architectural monuments survive as testaments to this. The Sungas were succeeded by the Kanva dynasty around 73 BC.from a private European collection since around 1970.
Lerner, M. & S. Kossak, The Lotus Transcendent: Indian and Southeast Asian Art from the Samuel Eilenberg Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1991.