12. Ayyanars-Tamil Nadu , India

During the journey towards the heritage city of Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu in South India, I stopped at an open- air shrine to an Ayyanar dating back to centuries, refurbished and redecorated each year by His loyal subjects, the villagers.

Most villages of Tamil Nadu would have an Ayyanar shrine which is usually located at the peripheries or boundaries of  the village to stand  guard at the boundary.  Ayyanars are an anthropological curiosity seen almost exclusively in Tamilnadu  in Southern India.

Ayyanars are devotedly worshipped as village guardian deity much like Bes was the God to protect the home and hearth in Egyptian culture and Vesta took care of the household warmth and productivity in the heart in Roman times.

Ayyanar shrines are simple, yet enchanting especially because they are hidden away in remote villages. Interestingly, the Ayyanar is a pre- Vedic Tamil deity of Dravidian origin; each is local to their villagers.

They stand as gigantic and colourful figures, acting as fearsome guardians, fangs and all to ward off evil. They are the primal guardian deities to bless a good harvest, prevent a plague, a draught or onslaught by marauders.

The iconography of the Ayyanar shows him holding a whip, stick, sword , sceptre or bow and arrow in order  to defend from evil and dispense justice. He is depicted riding an elephant or horse.

Small terracotta horses are usually sculpted by the local potter to be placed outside the temple. These are given as offerings to to deity steeds for his night time perambulations. As the principal guardian deity, Ayyanars are charged with the protection of the village from all calamities, and he is said to fulfil that duty by patrolling his fiefdom each night. Villagers often present terracotta painted horse to the Ayyanar on fulfilment of a wish.


Original:  Oil on canvas ; 12 x 16″  (305 x 410mm) ; framed

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Sizes available: 8 x 12″(203 x 305 mm); 12 x 16″(305 x 410mm); 18 x 24″(457 x 610 mm); 24 x 32″ (610 x 813mm)

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