This is Ayyanar (also spelt Aiyanar and Iyanar) with his consorts Puranai and Puskala (At least one author identifies the consorts by the names Madana and Varani.). Ayyanar is a Grama-devata (Village God), a protective deity, worshipped in almost all villages in Tamil Nadu. Ayya, in Tamil, is a term of reverence (loosely translates to ‘The Lord’), and is applied to males who are superior.
Ayyanar is normally seen sitting on a pedestal or on a horse. This form, where he is seated on an elephant with his consorts is not common. That is Purna (on his right) and Pushkala (on his left).
Ayyanar is identified by fan-shaped hair dress, sitting posture and the attribute on his right hand.
The myths surrounding Ayyanar is rich. He is a village guardian deity, Shasta (teacher), Hari Hara Putra (Son of Siva and Mohini – A form of Vishnu ) and is identified with Revanta.
Ayyanar is also known as Ayyappa or Shasta, in Sabarimala, Kerala. The annual festival in Sabarimalai attracts millions of people on pilgrimage. Ayyappa is celibate and here we see Ayyanar with two consorts. Some dispute the Aiyanar-Ayyappan association.
The amount of detailing (five figures, garland of the elephant, lotus in elephant’s trunk, decoration on elephants back, the shaping of elephants ears, a platform for the deities, Ayyanar’s hair arrangement, rope running under elephant’s tail) the artist has managed to capture in a metal sculpture of 6 cm is just amazing.
There is an attendant figure at the back. The positioning of the attendant and his posture is common to several examples of Ayyanar/Ayyappa I have come across ( Bronzes of South India by P R Srinivasan, South Indian Bronzes by C Sivaramamurti, Indian Bronzes – LACMA Vol 1 By Pratapaditya Pal and an example from the Metropolitan Museum – 1987.142.283, shown on the left)
This bronze is about 6 cm in height and it is from Tamil Nadu or Tamil speaking area. This has significant ritual wear, the surface is pitted and there is some encrusting. This may date to a period earlier than the seventeenth century. Age determination of this piece will require experts.