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  • Kerala Dwarpala

Stone
Possibly 14th -15th century
Central Kerala, Southern India (probably Palakkad district)

The doors (dwaras) of Hindu temples, especially in the south, were considered particularly vulnerable and hence required doorkeepers (dwarapalas). These guardian figures were usually produced in pairs and were meant to flank the entrance to a temple or shrine, warding off all inauspicious energies as well as warning the uninitiated lest they trespass on sacred ground. Dwarapalas usually bear the insignia of the gods whose sanctuary they protect. As befitting the door guardian of Shiva, the Lord of Dance, the two-armed figure is depicted in a stance borrowed from Kerala’s folk theatre and temple dance traditions. Poised in the manner of the fearsome warrior intimidating his opponent, such figures were intended to strike fear into the hearts of disbelievers.

Short and stout with a protruding stomach hanging over his belt, the figure blithely dances atop a coiled cobra, his entire weight resting on one plump leg. The Research Collective | The Artwork Programme, T2, Mumbai International Airport Limited The other leg, now broken, would have been wrapped around a club, its toes resting on the now non-existent hood of the snake. One arm, likewise damaged, would have crossed the dwarapala’s body to rest on the club. The other arm, bent at the elbow, is held up, its long talons promising reigned violence. The dwarapala’s braided hair flies outwards as he dances, his wide eyes flaring, and his open mouth reveals two fangs, indicating his demonic nature and membership of Shiva’s terrible army of ganas. The sense of movement is enhanced by the exuberant draperies, belts, and jewelled tassels that swirl around the figure with cosmic force, and are held together by the lion-like “faces of glory” or kirtimukha that is a potent symbol of Shiva. The dwarapala’s bold earrings sprout lions and elephants, both symbolic of unknowable power in the iconography of Kerala. Despite the flamboyant crown and multitude of jewellery (including bracelets, necklaces, anklets, girdles and arm ornaments), the dwarapala’s powerful form is not obscured nor his vigour diminished.

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