Object: Figurines

E/1957/21/21
India
1950’s
Materials: Ceramic, metal, paint

These tiny, yet beautiful figurines, standing merely 2 inches tall, were made to be purchased by Ganges pilgrims at Benares, India as token of having made the journey. Each of the figurines were hand-painted with a great deal of detail and most of the figures can be identified as specific Hindu deities.

These figurines represent many important deities of the Hindu religion. They include Parsam Ram (an incarnation of Vishnu), Saraswati, Krishna, Sita, Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu), an unidentified female figure, Kunti, Vishnu, Radha, Hannuman, and Rishi (the figures are shown from left to right, in this order, in the photograph below).

While the pantheon of Hindu deities is quite extensive, most of these characters are mentioned in the more famous ancient epics of India: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and are fundamental to Hindu belief. These epics are long heroic tales originally written in Sanskrit. Of the figurines held by the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Rama, Sita (Rama’s consort), and Hanuman are extremely important characters in the Ramayana epic. In this legend, Hanuman is a monkey who discovers he has special powers given to him by the gods. He and Sita assist Rama in his heroic battle against Ravana and his plot to conquer the heavens.

Of the many Hindu deities, there are three that are commonly grouped as the primary trinity of Hinduism. These are Vishnu (the protector), Brahma (the creator), and Siva (the destroyer). These three deities are believed to create a balance in the universe. In the group of figurines held at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Vishnu is depicted three times (he is the first, fifth, and eighth figure shown below) [Chenoa Copeland].

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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