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Figure - Karaikkal-Ammaiyar


  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Tamil Nadu (south, made)

  • Date:

    13th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Copper cast by the <i>cire perdue</i> process

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is a ‘portrait’ sculpture of the Saiva poet-saint Karaikkal-Ammaiyar (‘Mother of Karaikkal’). She devoted her life to composing and singing hymns in praise of Shiva, and her example of selfless devotion to her god had a profound influence on popular devotional Hinduism.

Born in the 6th century to a wealthy merchant family in the port city of Karaikkal, Karaikkal-Ammaiyar was blessed with great beauty. She married young, but after a series of miracles dedicated her life solely to Shiva. She achieved her emaciated state after beseeching Shiva to free her from her all worldly encumbrances, including her beauty.

Shiva granted her wish, transforming her into the form of one of the skeletal spirits who dance before Shiva at the cremation grounds. Karaikkal-Ammaiyar spent her days as an emaciated figure singing Shiva’s praise, accompanied only by her hand cymbals.

Karaikkal-Ammaiyar settled in Tiruvalankadu, the forest famed as the site where Shiva performed his ‘tandava dance’ in the midst of cremation pyres. There she spent the remainder of her life, writing hymns in praise of her Lord, many of them rich in gruesome imagery of death and decay. She signed her poems Karaikkal-pey, identifying herself as one of Shiva’s grotesque goblin followers, and kept the company of Shiva’s other dwarfish attendants, the ‘ganas’.

Physical description

Female figure squatting on her heels, emaciated, with tusks protruding from a grinning mouth. She holds before her a pair of cymbals connected by a cord. Initially identified as the Devi or Goddess in her form as Chamunda (Kali) or Rakshasi, the figure is now believed to represent Karaikkal-Ammaiyar, a 6th-century female Shaivite poet-saint (Guy,2007).

Place of Origin

Tamil Nadu (south, made)


13th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Copper cast by the cire perdue process


Height: 25 cm, Width: 24 cm, Depth: 15 cm

Object history note

Purchased in 1923 from Mrs L S Bradley, it formed part of the collection of Herbert Bradley, CSI, Barr, ICS, Member of the Legislative Council of Madras

Dehejia, Vidya (ed.) Devi: The Great Goddess: Female Divinity in South Asian Art. Washington : Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution,1999. ISBN 8185822638/3791321293, p. 383, cat.115

Descriptive line

Karaikkal-Ammaiyar, copper alloy, Tanjavur district, Tamil Nadu, south India, 13th century

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

Tantra, Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1971
Mitchell, A.G. 'Hindu Gods and Goddesses'. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982. Plate 49. ISBN 011290372X
H.Krishna Sastri, South Indian Gods and Goddesses. Madras 1916, p262 and fig 262 and P R Shrinivasan, Bronzes of South India, pp348 and 351.
Guy, John: 'Indian Temple Sculpture', London, V & A Publication, 2007, p.135, pl.151.
ISBN 9781851775095.
p.84, Cat.44
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
Cat.50, p.46
Balraj Khanna and George Michell. Human and divine : 2000 years of Indian sculpture. London: Hayward Gallery, c.2000. ISBN: 1853322105
p. 152, cat. no.48
Shiva Nataraja : der kosmische Tänzer / herausgegeben von Johannes Beltz ; mit einem Beitrag von Saskia Kersenboom. Zürich: Museum Rietberg, Zurich, c2008 Number: 9783907077382, 3907077385

Production Note

Tanjavur district, Tamilnadu, south India





Subjects depicted



Metalwork; Sculpture; Hinduism


South & South East Asia Collection

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