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Two figures of Vishnu avatars. The first shows Matsya (the fish) and the other shows Kurma (the tortoise)

Two figures of Vishnu avatars. The first shows Matsya (the fish) and the other shows Kurma (the tortoise)

Artist: Anonymous

Medium: Pen and ink on paper

Date: 1801

Shelfmark: WD1063

Item number: f.29

Length: 37.1

Width: 24.8

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Drawing

Pen and ink drawing of Matsya and Kurma, the fish and tortoise incarnations of Vishnu, from an 'Album of 51 drawings (57 folios) of buildings, sculpture and paintings in the temple and choultry of Tirumala Nayyak at Madura. c.1801-05', by an anonymous artist working in the South India/Madurai style, c. 1801-1805. Each picture is inscribed with a title and a number in ink.

This drawing is of a carving that can be found in the Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple of Madurai, the sacred complex built under the patronage of the Nayaka ruler Tirumala in the 17th century. Within the large enclosure are two temples dedicated to Shiva as Sundareshvara with his consort Minakshi, and several mandapas (halls) with elaborately sculpted columns of the gods from the Hindu pantheon. Matsya is the first of Vishnu's earthly incarnations in which he appeared as an enormous fish to save mankind and the sacred texts, the Vedas, from a powerful flood. Kurma, the tortoise, is the second incarnation of Vishnu. The god assumed this shape to serve as a base used by the gods and demons to churn the cosmic sea in order to create amrita, the nectar of immortality.

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