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An Indian carved ivory group of Arjun’s chariot

19th century
Ivory- rosewoodbase
23.5 cm x 43.5 cm (including plinth)
Provenance: From an English private collection

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The Bhaghvadgita (The Song of The Lord) has been frequently depicted in Indian sculpture and paintings.

The Gita is part of one of the greatest Indian epic poem: the Mahabharata (The Great Bharat), whose reputed author is the mythical sage Vyasa, said to have been compiled between the 3rd century BC and the 4th century AD.

The epic poem relates the story of a kingly dynasty and the war that erupted between the two royal dynasties, the noble and heroic 5 brothers the Pandavas led by Yudishtira and the cheating murderous 100 Kurus brothers led by Dhuroyodhana.

Krishna was the king of Dwarka and when the war was about to break out he was declared an ally to both sides. Krishna gave them the choice between being their charioteer but take no part in the fighting or provide his entire army. Duryodhana chose the army and so Krishna became Arjun’s charioteer.

Arjun was widely regarded as the greatest archer warrior of his time. He had a crisis of confidence, he doubted the use of war, he did not see the point inkilling his cousins just for land and money and did not want to take part in the fight also because he could see the teachers who taught him archery when he was young on the opposite side. For those reasons he put down his bow and arrow (that can be seen on the wooden plinth of the present carved ivory).

Krishna revealed his identity to Arjunas an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu and explained to him the necessity to follow dharma (duty).

The most important advice he gave is contained in the Bhagavad Gita, where he explained to Arjuna that all is illusion, including battle and death in arms, and that it is not the prerogative of man to question his duty: he must merely follow it, and leave the higher perspective to the gods.

Veronica Ions, Indian Mythology, (England, 1968), p.71.
Krishna responded to Arjun’s confusion and moral dilemma. Many philosophical concepts are discussed in this conversation like the soul, death, the absolute, materiality, spirituality, liberation.

The Gita is seen as an allegory in which the battlefield is the soul and human struggle, the chariot the body, and the horses leading the chariot the five senses.

This carved ivory group only represents four horses, which is not uncommon in sculptural and pictorial representations of the scene (in some paintings only two horses are represented).
Through the Gita the reader is invited to understand how he should conduct himself in the daily life, keeping god at the centre of his activities in the goal of self-liberation and performing his duty with detachment.

The present ivory group is a very fine example of that moment when Krishna, leading the chariot, tells the Gita to Arjun’s, seating being him on a throne.

Subject to CITIES regulations when exporting this item outside the UK (Conforming to CITIES regulations all ivory artworks offered date pre 1947)

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