MUSEUMS / Curators Choice: Horniman Museum

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The Independent Culture
The piece I have chosen is the statue of a bull representing the semi-divine figure of Nandi, dating from the late 18th or early 19th century. Carved in white marble, it originated in southern India and is rather a magnificent piece, about 30 inches high. It depicts the figure of a humped bull, with a very chunky body, covered with garlands and bells. It's kneeling on a plinth and would be placed in front of a shrine to Shiva. Nandi is Shiva's vehicle and doorkeeper and, according to the myths, used to be a human being who was then transformed into this bull.

He's very much a symbol of strength and virility, so much so that people, when they are going to worship in Shiva's shrine, will touch Nandi's testicles if they want to have children. It's a monumental piece and is very typical of a lot of Indian motifs and concepts. A tremendous element in Hinduism is devotion to the gods and he represents that in himself.

It came out of the palace of Nana Sahib at Bithur who was one of the local princes and in fact instigated the massacre at Cownpore during the Mutiny. He had a fairly ruthless reputation, though it was a bloody time when there was a lot of antipathy on both sides. In Indian art you can't really separate the artistic and the religious: that's a western distinction. I'm pleased Mr Horniman managed to buy the piece because one couldn't collect this sort of material now, it would just be far too expensive.

Ken Teague is the Assistant Keeper of the Asian Collection of the Horniman Museum, 100 London Rd, Forest Hill, SE23 (081-699 1872). Sacred Lands, Devoted Lives is open to Jan 1996.

(Photograph omitted)