Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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The swinging of the deity


    • currently in research collection

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  • Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum by J. C. Harle and Andrew Topsfield

    Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum

    Swinging in the open air was from early times a popular spring pastime in India and is described in Sanskrit literature as an occasion for lover’s dalliance. It was also a pleasant way of keeping cool in the summer heat, and rows of hooks for swing-beds can still be seen in the ceilings of old Rajput palaces. In the Mughal period the image of a prince or noble couple seated enjoyably in a swing was incorperated in the rāgamālā iconography [see EA1958.148] for Hindola (“swing”) rāga.

    This typical royal pastime also became part of the pūjā (devotional) ceremonies of various religious cults most notably in Rajasthan in the cult of Śrī Nāthjī, a form of Kṛṣṇa, whose main shrine is at Nathdwara, a small town to the north of Udaipur. The daily worship at the temple follows an elaborate prescribed ritual of waking and bathing the deity, clothing him like a prince, offering him fine meals and putting him to sleep again. At set hours the worshippers are admitted to watch the ceremonies and have darśan (“vision”) of the god. During the year there are also twenty-four major seasonal festivals with their own special rituals, which in several cases include seating the garlanded deity in a swing, as can be seen in a 19th century painting [EA1966.230], in which three small gold images of manifestations of Kṛṣṇa are gently rocked by a priest.

    The wooden frame of the Museum’s swing [EA1968.43] is inlaid with mirror plaques and supported by caparisoned elephants with mahouts. It terminates in peacock finials and intersects a pair of makaras (with associated apsarases, monkeys and parrots), from whose mouths issues the toraṇa arch (with parrots and scrollwork) from which the swing is suspended. The struts of the swing terminate in multiple makara heads with hanging bobbles, and its seat is painted with birds and floral scrollwork on a red ground. A small portrait of Vaisnava saint seated in padmāsana on a tiger skin is set into the centre of the leading cross-beam of the swing itself. The wooden stand is also painted red with scrolling, vegetal decoration is yellow and green. The top is missing.

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