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  • Place of origin:

    Tamil Nadu (made)

  • Date:

    12th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Copper alloy

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs D. M. Kay

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    South Asian Sculpture, Room 47b, case 5

This elephant would probably have been made to carry a figure of the Hindu god Aiyanar or Ayannar such as the V&A example number IM.15-1939. Aiyanar is one of the most popular folk-deities of rural south India where he serves as the principal protective deity of village communities, especially from the malevolent forces that abound at night. His shrines are readily identified in the countryside, where painted terracotta horses are dedicated to him; these are usually located outside the village or town boundaries.

Aiyanar is generally worshipped as the son of Shiva, though his origins are undoubtedly in a local hero (vira) cult deity. Legend attributes his birth to a sexual union between Shiva and Vishnu who appeared to Shiva in a female form as Mohini. Due to his parentage, he is revered by both followers of Shiva and Vishnu. He is also referred to by some devotees as Harahariputa, that is, the son of Hara (Shiva) and Hari (Vishnu), underscoring the manner in which he bridges the two principle sects of Hinduism.

Aiyanar is exceptional in that he is a village guardian deity elevated into the pantheon of temple Hinduism, where processional bronze images were commissioned. He is here represented seated in a relaxed posture (sukhasana) and holding an elephant goad (ankusa). His radiating hair, mimicking that worn by Shiva in his ascetic–yogic forms, is decorated with a cobra and crescent moon, thus identifying himself closely with Shiva. The elephant on which he rides wears bell-garlands and a small ‘howdah’-pedestal on which Aiyanar sits. Behind Aiyanar, holding on precariously, is a smaller figure, presumably the elephant-keeper (mahout). A similar ensemble is preserved in the Government Museum, Chennai.

Physical description

Elephant, wearing a double collar and other ornaments. On his back is a seat for an image, the latter missing, and on his crupper sits his rider (mahout). Missing deity presumed to be Aiyanar.
A similar elephant, complete with deity, is preserved in Madras Museum.

Place of Origin

Tamil Nadu (made)


12th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Copper alloy


Height: 27.9 cm, Width: 30.5 cm

Descriptive line

Figure of an elephant and mahout, bronze, Tamil Nadu, 12th to 13th Century.

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

Guy, John: 'Indian Temple Sculpture', London, V & A Publication, 2007, p.173, pl.195.
ISBN 9781851775095.
Guy, John (ed.). ‘L’Escultura en els Temples Indis: L’Art de la Devocio’, Barcelona : Fundacio ‘La Caixa’, 2007. p.210. cat. 169-170.
ISBN 9788476649466
Pal, P. Indian Sculpture : A Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection. Vol. 2, 700-1800. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles) and University of California Press (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London), 1988. 320 p. ill. ISBN 0-87587-148-18. Cat. 149, pp. 281-2.
No. 70
Haworth-Booth, Mark; Indian Sculpture: A Travelling Exhibition, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1971

Labels and date

7. Elephant
Chola period
Although this elephant and the figure of Aiyanar did not
originally belong together, the elephant was made to carry
just such an image and was cast with a seat on his back for
the god. Seated further back is a smaller figure, perhaps the
mahout or elephant driver. The richly caparisoned elephant
grasps a piece of foliage in his trunk.
Copper alloy
Southern India (Tamil Nadu)
Given by Mrs D.M. King
Museum no. IM.14-1938 [06/06/2011]

Production Note

Tamil Nadu, south India

Attribution note: Hollow cast


Copper alloy

Subjects depicted

Hinduism; Elephant


Sculpture; Hinduism; Animals and Wildlife


South & South East Asia Collection

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