Deccan, brass, cast and engraved, Hamsa oil lamp finials from North Karnataka/Andhra

The wings and tail of the bird are engraved in stylised feather designs. Along the back of the head are small scrolls like a bird’s crest. The branch the Hamsa in the background holds in its beak is probably a representation of a branch of Sanjeevini, which is held to be a medicinal plant in Hindu mythology that revives life. Birds or Hamsas like this were used as decorative elements on the top of oil lamps and as containers for the oil. In this piece an internal mechanism would have allowed the oil to pass, drop by drop, through a narrow, often faceted, spout on the breast of the bird, into the bowl with the wicks beneath. Comparable examples in Mark Zebrowski ‘Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India’, cat.93-95, p.98. The teak base has been made by us to display these pieces. The Hamsa, a swan or goose, which is revered by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, is seen as a symbol of purity, detachment and divine knowledge. It symbolizes the highest spiritual accomplishment as it swims in water, walks on earth and flies in the sky.

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