The tradition of building and carving in wood has always been popular in Kerala. It has also retained its creative vitality for a long period as is clear from this lively and pleasing figure of a 'dvarapala' or doorkeeper. Generally, doorkeepers are more solemn imposing figures who strike more reposeful postures. But in the south they are sometimes shown as dancing, as is suggested by the posture and gestures of this guardian.
Despite the fact that he is enmeshed in twisting and interlocking jewelleries of all kinds and swirling scarves and tassels, his powerful form is not obscured nor his vigour diminished. He wraps his plump left leg around his club, the toes resting on the hood of a cobra. His right arm swings across his chest and the bent left arm is held up. The gestures of both hands are exquisitely graceful, and his face with bulging eyes and open mouth is expressive.
Pratapaditya Pal, 'Dancing to the flute - Music and dance in Indian art', AGNSW, 1997. pg. 116.
A temple guardian
16th century-17th century
carved wood wall panel
95.2 x 42.0 x 18.0 cm; 100.5 cm with stand
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Not on display
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Living Wood, sculptural traditions of Southern India, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 10 Apr 1992–31 May 1992
Dancing to the flute: music and dance in Indian art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Jun 1997–24 Aug 1997
Referenced in 3 publications
George Michell, Living Wood: Sculptural Traditions of Southern India, 'Carvings in Kerala Temples', pg. 89-112, India, 1992, 89 (colour illus.), 175 (illus.). cat.no. 76. The colour illus. on page 89 is a detail of this work.
Pratapaditya Pal, Dancing to the flute: music and dance in Indian art, Sydney, 1997, 116 (colour illus.). cat.no. 64 In this publication this object is titled 'A temple guardian'. See 'Further Information' for text.
Jane Somerville, Look, 'A bit of a puzzle', pg. 33-35, Sydney, Mar 2007, 37 (colour illus.).