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  • Annapakshi, Pink

Wood, Pigment
18th Century
Tamil Nadu, South India

Each Tamil temple has its annual calendar of auspicious celebrations known as utsavas or events to ‘drive out sorrow’. Chief among these are the temple processions in which ceremonial bronze images of the deity (utsavamurti) are carried beyond the temple compound on poles, on their animal vehicles, or in chariots drawn by devotees.

Great care is taken in dressing the portable images of the deity to create an image of regal splendor – the gods are bathed with purified water and sandalwood ash, and then dressed in a gold embellished silk sari and bedecked with jewellery. The processional images are secured on their vehicles and sheltered by a canopy or large umbrellas from the harsh heat of the day. Only the officiating priests are permitted to travel with the utsavamurti on the moving

The Research Collective | The Artwork Programme, T2, Mumbai International Airport Limited platform, receiving offerings and dispensing blessings on behalf of the deity. The processions are designed to allow the deity to visit his ‘territory’ and mark out his authority. The procession proceeds slowly through the town, stopping at regular intervals for rest and to provide further opportunities for devotees of all castes to experience darshan.

Derived from the Sanskrit root word ‘vah’ which means to transport, vahanas denote both physical mounts of the deity and conveyors of devotees’ prayers to the deity. During the utsavam, the deities often ride out from the temple compound astride models of their respective vahanas. These are crafted in wood, a material that once contained life and is deemed primed to serve as a vessel for the spirit of the celestial mounts. Before each festival, the vahanas are repainted with bright vivid colours, bedecked with flowers, and fitted with an elaborate pedestal on which the ceremonial image of the deity is installed. During the rest of the year, the vahanas are housed within the temple and worshipped.

This figure represents the mythical bird, the annapakshi. Its body and beak resemble that of the swan, while its elaborate plumage and crest derive from the peacock. In its beak, it holds a flowering vine, a symbol of abundance and prosperity. An embodiment of purity, the annapakshi stands atop a rectangular plinth that would have been hefted on the shoulders of devotees or placed on a ceremonial chariot. Above it, a more lavish pedestal would be provided as the seat for the deity. As an auspicious metaphor that is not linked to any particular deity, the annapakshi is used as a mount for Shiva in his form as Azhagar and for his son Murugan (also known as Kartikeya, Skanda and Subramanya). Likewise, the annapakshi may also bear the idol of Vishnu in his form as Perumal, Balaji, Srinivasa or Venkateshwara as well as images of the 12 Azhwar or Vaishanvite saints during temple processions.

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