About the Artist
This wooden sculpture was carved by an unknown artist during the 1800s in Southern India (perhaps in the regions of Tamil Nadu or Kerala). This sculpture shows Hanuman, the Hindu monkey-god, kneeling in devotion to the god Rama. Rama is a form of the Hindu god Vishnu, one of the most important gods in the Hindu tradition and the protector and preserver of the universe. The figure, carved on all sides, would originally have been painted in vivid colors and carried in a Hindu festival procession. This sculpture would have probably been regularly re-painted for festival appearances. The artist carved carefully defined muscles to show Hanuman’s incredible strength, and flowers and jewelry to decorate the body.
What Inspired It
This sculpture was carved to honor the monkey-god Hanuman during Hindu festivals. In Hindu tradition, Hanuman was the son of the wind god. As a youth, Hanuman got in trouble with the gods and was struck down. His father, seeing his beloved son lying helpless, drew in a mighty breath and sucked away all the air from the cosmos. "Let all those who have harmed my son choke to death," he thought aloud. Predictably, there was panic in the cosmos. Without air, life on every level was threatened. The gods, realizing their folly, went in unison and asked for forgiveness. To make amends, they showered blessings and powers on the monkey child. As a result, Hanuman received a power greater than even that of his father: speed faster than the mightiest wind. One well-known story tells of Hanuman’s strength when he helped Rama, one of the most important Hindu deities, recover his wife from a demon. In his devotion to Rama, Hanuman is upheld as a model for human devotion to the gods. His image reminds the viewer to humbly and devotedly serve god. This sculpture shows Hanuman kneeling in devotion to Rama, his face animated and his hands gesturing elegantly. During festivals, villagers would have placed garlands of fresh flowers (marigolds and chrysanthemums were frequently used) over the carved flowers that Hanuman wears. The figure was carried on the shoulders of several men.
Hanuman wears a crown, earrings, multiple necklaces, upper and lower arm bracelets (some decorated with bells), and multiple rings.
Look for traces of color that once covered sculpture. There are traces of green in the garland, orange-red on the side decorations, and pink on the body. Hanuman probably had his colors regularly re-painted for festival processions.
On the back of Hanuman’s shoulder is a slot where a metal bar used to hold the arm to the shoulder. There is a similar bar in the inside of the thigh.
Hanuman’s physical strength is apparent throughout this sculpture. Notice the thick muscles of his calves, chest, and buttocks. And yet, don’t forget that Hanuman is shown in an act of kneeling devotion to his lord, Rama.