Dhanvantri

Dhanvantri

Dhanvantri is the patron god of Indian Medicine.

There are two versions of events leading to his birth as a Prince to the King of Varanasi. As per one, Dhanvantri came out of the churning of the ocean milk with a cup of Amruta, a life-extending elixir,  in his hands. As all Amruta was meant for Gods, Dhanvantri was asked to be born as human and earn his right to Amruta.

As per the second version, Dhanvantri was the physician of Gods and he was sent to the earth to alleviate humans suffering.

Somewhere his being born as a prince got transformed into his being a minor avatar of Vishnu. One in the extended list of twenty-seven avatars. The iconography of Dhanvantri varies and he is shown with two, four or six arms. When he has four or six arms, sometimes he is seen with Vishnu’s attributes, Chakra and Shankha. But invariably he holds a pot containing elixir.

In this bronze, Dhanvantri is shown seated in Padmasana holding a pot in his left hand and, possibly, a leech in his right hand. There is a halo behind him. The Chakra and Shankha, principal attributes of Vishnu, in the Halo associate him withChennai Museum Dhanvantri Vishnu.

This is one of the very few portrayals of Dhanvantri where he is not wearing a crown. One such example is in the Chennai Government museum, see the image on the side. The description mentions it is from Ramnad District of Tamil Nadu and dates it to the 17th century.

Though Dhanvantri is said to have appeared first in Varanasi, the temples where he is the principal deity are located in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in South India.

This bronze is about 6 cm in height and it is likely to have come from Tamil Nadu. This bronze may date to the eighteenth century or earlier.

Thanks to AK for pointing out the transition of Dhanvantri from prince to a
minor avatar of Vishnu.

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