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  • Place of origin:

    Tamil Nadu (made)

  • Date:

    circa 18th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This granite figure depicts a seated Hindu ascetic, bearded and with long flowing hair. He is wearing a rosary and using a meditation strap (‘yogapatta’) around his torso and knees to allow him to maintain his posture. The sculpture was most likely created for a religious site, such as a temple or Hindu monastery ('matha'). It probably represents a known Hindu ascetic renowned for his meditative skills or the performance of austere rituals.

Such 'portrait' sculptures are rare. When found they are usually cast in bronze so this large-scale granite figure is most unusual.

Physical description

Figure of a Hindu ascetic, with long flowing hair and a beard tied in a knot at the bottom. He has large bulging eyes under heavy arched eyebrows and a raised thrid eye on his forehead He is seated in a meditative position with his knees drawn up and his feet crossed at the ankles. His arms are supported on his splayed knees with his hands hanging down holding a beaded rosary in his right hand and a conical object in his left. He is wearing rudraksha beads round his neck and further strings of beads on his upper arms and wrists. He has rings on his right hand and he is using a meditation strap (yogapatta) decorated with a geometric design round his torso and knees, to allow him to maintain his posture. He is seated upon a square base with a concave middle section and shallow mouldings on the front half.

Place of Origin

Tamil Nadu (made)


circa 18th century (made)



Materials and Techniques



Height: 45 cm, Width: 28 cm, Depth: 29 cm

Object history note

An ascetic (rishi, literally one who is inspired with ancient knowledge) seated in mediation with the aid of a meditation strap (yogapatta), wearing the long hair of those who follow his path of worldly renunciation and give themselves over to the worship of their god. He wears a string of rudrakasa beads – seeds from a tree holy to Shiva - so identifying himself as a devotee (bhakta) of Shiva. Such rishis were often renowned for their advanced meditative skills and for their ability to perform extreme austerities.
‘Portrait’ sculptures of ascetics are a rare occurrence and where they do occur they are more likely to be cast in bronze, for installing in a shrine nearby to their beloved god. Large-scale stone sculptures of this type are very unusual indeed, suggesting that this may in fact be a portrait of a highly revered historical sage or rishi, presumably attached to a famous temple or matha (Hindu monastery). The lineage of highly revered philosophers and teachers at the Kamaksi temple in Kanchipuram is an example of such a temple to which such a rishi might belong.

Descriptive line

Hindu ascetic, rishi or yogi, granite, Tamil Nadu, south India, circa 18th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

p.72, pl.78
Guy, John Indian temple sculpture . London: V&A Publications, 2007
p.71, Cat.359
Tantra, Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1971
p.100, Cat.52
L'escultura en el temples indis : l'art de la devoció : exposició organitzada per la Fundació "La Caixa" i el Victoria & Albert Museum, Londres. [Barcelona: Obra social, Fundació "la Caixa", c2007 Number: 9788476649466
pp.168-9, Cat. 2:32
Willis, M. (ed.) India: the Art of the Temple, Shanghai Museum, 2010





Subjects depicted



Religion; Hinduism


South & South East Asia Collection

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