• Yaali

Wood
Early 19th century, Late 18th century
Rajasthan, West India

Hindu mythology tells us that Lord Shiva once assumed the form of Sarabhesha, a winged lion with prominent claws and tusks, capable of granting moksha or spiritual liberation. He is celebrated in this form as the yaali - composite creature with the body of a lion and features of other animals such as elephants, crocodiles, snakes, and horses. The yaali embodies the characteristics of each of these animals – fierce and aggressive like a lion, dexterous and venomous like a snake, mighty and intelligent like an elephant. Usually represented with bulging eyes, a flame-like mane, fangs, and pronounced claw, the yaali rears on its muscular hind legs, poised for attack.

Featuring on the temple brackets and pillars, the yaali is a metaphor for the shifting nature of the self. When shown standing atop other animals, the figure represents the conquering of the ego and one’s inner conflicts in the journey towards oneness with the divine.

In this particular figure, the yaali has the body of a lion, the scaly feet of a crocodile and winged ears. It stands atop a crouching elephant, dwarfing it. Yet despite it’s obvious power, is tamed by a diminutive male rider who reins the beast in with a single hand. This massive figure probably formed part of a series installed in the mandapa or pillared hall of a shrine.

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