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Saint Sundarar with wife Paravai
16th century

H: 57.2 W: 37.1 D: 19.0 cm

Gift of Arthur M. Sackler S1987.902

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During puja images of Hindu gods, goddesses, and saints are often bathed and dressed to honor the deity or the saint they portray. This bronze sculpture represents the saint Sundara and his wife, Paravai, followers of the god Shiva. It is dressed as it would be when carried through the streets of a southern Indian city during a religious festival. For most of the year, an image such as this is kept in its own shrine in a large temple. Once a yeare during an eloborate puja, it is washed with holy water, then with milk, yoghurt, honey, sandalwood paste, and ashes before being dressed in ceremonial robes. It is lavishly adorned with garlands of flowers and may be decorated with jewelry. Priests then invoke the spirits of the deity or saint depicted to enter the sculpture. For the duration of the ceremony the image is thought to contain the deity's presence. In an elaborate procession, many sacred images are paraded through the streets, accompanied by thousands of devotees. Hindus believe that even a glimpse of an image filled with the spirit of the god or saint facilitates a direct visual communication (darshan) with the deity, which will bring blessings to the worsippers. Sundara was an eighth-century follower of Shiva whose focused devotion and performance of countless miracles with Shiva's aid were greatly responsible for the spread of the worship of Shiva in southern India. His wife, Paravai, is honored for her steadfast loyalty to both her god and her husband.

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