Surya Lamp (Nepal)


Surya LampThis is a Nepali lamp with Surya. It showcases Newari craft at its best. Surya is identified by the lotus he holds in each hand, a chariot driven by seven horses and Usha and Pratusha on the sides with bow and arrow.

The lamp is oil and wick-based. Given the size of this bronze, about 35 cm in height, it is possibly made for use in temples rather than for home shrine. However, usage related signs are not obvious.

The base of the lamp is beautifully crafted, round base, perforated walls, lotus petals and graceful tapering to a large oil receptacle.Surya lamp Closeup

Surya is flanked by his two consorts. The consorts are crafted the same way as Surya, raised hands holding lotus stalks which run along their hands to lotus buds at their shoulder level. All three have a circular halo, Prabhamandala.  Surya is said to have two, three, four or seven wives and the names vary.  The names include Rajni, Ri (Ni)ksubha, Chaya, Suvachasa, Usha, Sanjna, Savarna and Surenu. For a discussion on Surya’s consorts please refer to The development of Hindu Iconography by J N Banerjea.

At a level below is Usha and Pratusha, on the sides, with bow and arrow personifying aspects of dawn and chasing away the darkness.

Aruna, the charioteer, is holding reins in his hands and rides the two-wheeled chariot. The wheels are on the sides and the photos here do not show them. The seven horses meant to represent seven days of the week. The horses are Gayatri, Bharati Usni, Jagati, Pankati, Anustubha and Tristubha (Ref The Sun Images by Priyabala Shah, quoting Visnudharmottra).

There are two more holes at the back and it is quite likely there was one more prabhavali. One other example I had come across had outer prabhavali as well but did not have a lamp and the base.

One of the intriguing aspects of this bronze is, the feet of Surya and his consorts are left undefined. Some authors attribute it to his wearing footwear and to Persian influence. According to Gopinath Rao and Priyabala Shah, the reason lies elsewhere. The Matsya Purana after recounting how the feet of Sun god is left unfinished by Viswakarma, adds ‘So in the worship of the Sun, no one anywhere fashions his feet. If it is done, it gives leprosy. In pictures and as well as in images placed in temples, the devotee should carefully refrain from conceiving the feet of the Sun-god’. Quoted from The Sun Images by Priyabala Shah. See the photo on the right side.

Prabhavali decoration, construction of the bronze (assembled piece by piece rather than cast) and styling suggest this bronze is from Nepal.

All the comments above are based on Indian literature of Surya. So far I have not come across any literature on Surya from Nepal. Met museum and Ashmolean museum have bronzes of Surya from Nepal.

There are two other related bronzes in this site, a seated Surya from Pala period and one of the Adityas, Dhatr-Surya.





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