Karaikkal Ammaiyar, Shaiva Saint

Period: Chola period (880–1279)

Date: ca. late 13th century

Culture: India (Tamil Nadu)

Medium: Copper alloy

Dimensions: H. 9 1/8 in. (23.2 cm); W. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm); D. 5 1/4 in. (13.3 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, Edward J. Gallagher Jr. Bequest, in memory of his father, Edward Joseph Gallagher, his mother, Ann Hay Gallagher, and his son, Edward Joseph Gallagher III, 1982

Accession Number: 1982.220.11


Devotees of Shiva also pay homage to a group of sixty-three "slaves of the lord," figures analogous to the Christian saints. Historical figures who lived from the sixth through the tenth century, the saints were part of a popularizing movement known as bhakti, which valued intense devotion to an individual god above adherence to religious tenets or the performance of rituals. The saints traveled to sites in South India associated with Shiva and wrote poems and songs praising the Lord in the popular language of Tamil rather than the liturgical Sanskrit. Their poems figure prominently in the sacred canon of Shiva and are often sung in religious ceremonies.

In this sculpture, bhakti saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar is shown playing the cymbals as she chants one of her poems. Karaikkal Ammaiyar, who lived in the sixth century, asked Shiva to take away her beauty so that she would not be distracted from her worship of him. Shiva complied, and she became the emaciated figure depicted in this and other sculptures.