Kannappa Nayanar

Sometimes you get lucky and that is the case here. Rarity, quality, age, subject matter and, more importantly, affordability all came together to enhance my collection.

This is Kannappa Nayanar, one of the sixty-three Saivite Nayanars, offering his right eye to Lord Shiva as a replacement for Shiva’s bleeding eye. See the depression in the right eye socket as compared to the left. The right eyeball is on his right palm.

The story: Tinnan, a hunter by profession, stumbled upon a Shiva Lingam in the forest and started worshipping the Lingam. Shiva wanted to demonstrate Tinnan’s devotion. One day as Tinnan approached the Lingam for worshipping, he noticed the Lingam’s right eye was bleeding. Tinnan tried herbal remedies without success. He then plucked his right eye and placed it in the bleeding eye’s position. That is the act you see in the bronze.

After a short while, Lingam’s left eye started bleeding. Unhesitatingly, Tinnan marked Lingam’s left eye position with his feet and got ready to pluck his left eye. Shiva then appeared before Tinnan, restored his right eye and called him Kannappa (He of the eyes).

Kannappan’s iconography is rich and it is probably the one with the most variations among the Nayanars, barring Sambandar. These variations include standing in Anjali mudra with a bow slung on his shoulders (Darasuram), getting ready to pluck his right eye (Kalahasti), offering his right eye (this one and one in Tanjore museum- the picture to our right is from Wikipedia), In Anjali Mudra (Chennai museum) and marking the left eye with his feet (mainly stone relief sculptures).

The miniature bronzes of the Nayanars, barring the four prominent ones (Nalvar), are rare. That makes it difficult to estimate their age through stylistic comparisons.

Noteworthy features include earrings and other ornaments, his cap, his lower garment and the markings on his feet denoting sandals.

Christie’s auction sold a bronze of a different Nayanar but it is comparable in size and surface conditions. That bronze was dated to the 14th century. This bronze, probably, has a similar age profile.

The bronze is about 12 cm in height and it is from Tamil Nadu.


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