Skip to content


Kerala, India

A door guardian (Dvarapala)
Other titles:
A temple guardian
Place of origin
16th century-17th century
Media category
Materials used
carved wood wall panel

95.2 x 42.0 x 18.0 cm; 100.5 cm with stand

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Purchased 1994
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

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.

Bibliography (3)

George Michell, Living Wood: Sculptural Traditions of Southern India, 'Carvings in Kerala Temples', pg. 89-112, India, 1992, 89 (colour illus.), 175 (illus.). 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.). 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, Newtown, Mar 2007, 37 (colour illus.).

Exhibition history (2)

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