134 Tantric Hanuman

134 • Tantric Hanuman

Lahore, Pakistan, late 16th century
Size: 21.5 × 13.8 cm
Bronze, repousse, chased and engraved

Hanuman holds a full complement of attributes in his twelve arms.  On his left side: a mountain crowned with a temple, a Shiva-trident, the mace, axe, ankh and katar push-dagger.  On the right: sword, drum, pick, short trident, human head, and long trident held under the arm.  His long arched tail is hung with human heads, and he stands on human figures, a male with a bull’s head and a female with raised arms.  Four horse-heads peer out from the top of his crown, he wears an earring and pantaloons and displays a lotus chakra above the solar plexus.  Much of the background and parts of his body are engraved with verses from the Ramayana in Sanscrit.  At the top left within an arched balcony Shiva appears reclining against a bolster.

The Ramayana was translated from Sanskrit to Hindi by the famous Hindu yogi and scholar Tulsi Das between 1575 and 1577.  In 1584 Akbar commissioned another translation of one of the many versions of the epic, which was overseen by his secretary Badrayumi.  It is said that this enterprise was inspired by his marriage to the noble Rajput lady Jodha Bai, for whom he also commissioned a series of miniatures illustrating the stories.  Of the eight surviving paintings the finest, showing Sita and Hanuman, is in the C. L. David Collection, Copenhagen.

This rare bronze plaque also has features illustrating the unusual cultural symbiosis nurtured by Akbar in the latter part of the 16th century.  The katar in Hanuman’s lower left hand has the typical shape of a dagger of the Akbari period.  His crown too is of Mughal type, as is the dress of the woman under his foot.  One of the famous moments of Tulsi Das’ life was his encounter with Hanuman outside Benares, which may be a reference for the iconography of this devotional plaque.  Tantric Hanuman became a widespread and popular image.

134 Tantric Hanuman
Popular image of Tantric Hanuman, circa 1800