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  • Winged Horse

Wood, pigment
18th century
Tamil Nadu, Southern India

Each Tamil temple has its annual calendar of 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 (vahanas), or in chariots drawn by devotees.

Although large carved wooden figures of horses serves as ceremonial mounts for Lord Vishnu during such festivals, smaller figures such as this example may be affixed to the pedestal. As in this instance, the horses are usually depicted as ithyphallic, highlighting their virility. The animal is shown in vigorous motion, its hind legs firmly placed on the small red pedestal while its forelegs rear up. The animal’s head, neck, and torso are draped in ceremonial finery: sumptuous belled necklaces, headdress, girdles, earrings, and harnesses evoke the prestige of precious metals while its elaborate saddle suggests rich brocade. The horse is also portrayed as winged, definitively proclaiming its celestial nature.

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