Identification of Indian bronzes, even for a long-time collector like me, is not always simple. Some of the bronzes with me have continued to elude identification even after years. I suspect the subject of this blog will be one of them.
What we have is a naked ascetic with captivating hair locks, riding a horse. His right hand appears to hold prayer beads, Akshamala. The nakedness is a reference to the garments as he is wearing a headband, earrings, arm bands, wristlets and anklets. The horse is harnessed and decorated. The tilak on his forehead may be interpreted as the third eye if one were to view this as a representation of Siva.
This is a three-piece construction. The base, the horse and the ascetic were cast separately and joined. The base design, open in the middle, is typical of North Deccan bronzes.
The casting and the workmanship is not ‘fine’ and the overall appearance is one of a folk bronze. It is the hair locks that compelled me. Beautiful is it not?
I consulted one of my collector friends, Murugan, on the identification. Murugan’s poetic narration/analysis is reproduced below for you to enjoy.
“A very interesting bronze indeed. I haven’t seen anything like it before – a holy mendicant with dreadlocks on a horse! I am also wondering who commissioned it and for what..! Being from the 20th century CE, what was the contemporary relevance of the subject, and the associated mythologies!? I have a feeling it could be from Northern Deccan because of a local penchant for bizarre mythologies that originate from the intersection of local god legends, Virasaiva hagiographies and Sufi lore. However, it is always difficult to pinpoint late bronzes as you would know.”
Agree with him on the geographic attribution and the dating. There is a possibility this is a representation of Bhairava, particularly Unmatta Bhairava. This needs to be researched and confirmed.
This Vigraha is about 19 cm in height. A captivating bronze in its own way.