Sree Sabri Mala Dharma Sastha

About this object

History of use

Indian popular religious prints have been published for nearly a century, first by German presses, later by Indian ones. The prints may take the form of calendars, posters, or simply images. The style of the representations is European. In the beginning they were Hindu images, but are now acquiring elements both of folk art and a romantic secularism. It is a living art currently influenced by the movie industry and non-Hindu religions. The images are a vehicle for advertising and are also used for religious purposes. This print is for use in puja.

Cultural context

calendar art; popular religious art

Iconographic meaning

Distinctive attributes: headdress; vertical mark on forehead; conch shell (associated with origin of existence through spiral form and association with water); Brahminical thread; band around knees (symbolizing chastity); gesture of right hand (vitarka mudra); offerings of plantain and coconuts (representative of Shiva). All identify the figure as Ayyappan (Aiyappan), a representation of Vishnu. He is also identified with Dharma Sastha, born of the union between Shiva and Vishnu Mohini (Vishnu incarnated as the 'beautiful lady'). The purpose of his avatar was to remove sorrow by destroying evil and establishing dharma, and to reconsecrate Sabarimalai Temple.

Physical description

Rectangular print depicting Ayyappan crouched on a gold pedestal or throne. He is bare-chested; wearing blue dhoti with a gold band around his knees, two necklaces, a Brahminical thread, a blue and pink garland around his shoulders, a gold, jeweled headdress, and a red namam(?) on his forehead. Palm of hand on left faces outwards, the thumb and forefinger touching. Arm on right is outstretched and hand hangs limply. Along the bottom are offerings which include plantains, a coconut, flowers, and a conch shell, lie on a red and green rug. Two gold lamps stand on either side of a male figure. Dark brown background has red curtain hanging along top above scene, two gold lamps, one hanging on either side of male, and pale grey halo shape surrounded by an ornate round gold frame behind his head. 'K.K. Valayatham' is written in the bottom right corner, and two stamps on left. 'Sree Sabri Mala Dharma Sastha' is printed in a blank space at print's base, with publisher's name and address printed on the bottom left side.