As suggest the horse’s majesty, robust build and vanity reflecting on its face, besides every centimeter of space aesthetically and tastefully painted and embellished with coloured metal foils, this brilliant statue – a replica of a horse is a rare artifact from Rajasthan. Sculpted out of a specie of wood growing in a number of regions in Rajasthan, especially around river Chambal it has been represented as trotting with one of its forelegs lifted and neck and head raised as in arrogance or in sportive mood. Besides a richly conceived saddle it has a wooden frame for securing the rider. The wood – locally known as Safeda, it has been sculpted from, is neither very tough nor very soft and is hence considered ideal for carving. It is being used by Rajasthani artisans now for long for carving and sculpting artifacts. When chiseled the wood yields marble-like surface, smooth and white, ideal also for painting every colour laid on it reflecting as brightly as when laid over a paper-sheet or canvas. The tradition of painted toys, decorative artifacts and articles of use : human and animal icons, puppets, camel-driven carts, a wide range of containers – jewelry boxes, caskets, mini-temple structures for enshrining divine icons in domestic shrines, lamps, stands for pens, swings …, is quite old and wide-spread in Rajasthan though the wood used by artisans of remote desert region is different.
Camel and horse are two most popular animals that the Rajasthani artisans of all ages have passionately sculpted, painted and adorned with various metal foils, and sometimes, with beads and semi-precious stones, and enriched the tradition of people’s art in Rajasthan. Camel – the common man’s mode of transport, transporting him and his commodities from one place to other, driving his carts, tilling his fields, and the female camel, giving him milk, is popular in entire Rajasthan as the ship of desert. Contrarily, the horse, the pride of a Rajput, is the mount of a selected few. It is a commonplace in Rajasthan that the horse is a Rajput’s first love, his sword and dog, being second and third, and mistress, fourth. Till recently in Rajasthan the size of one’s stable and the breed of the horses he maintained determined his status in feudal world. With its head held high this tall animal seems to be a rare breed and from the stable of a prince.
In ancient India horse was the theme of a large body of canonical literature. The Ashva-shashtra – science of horses, was a highly respected branch of knowledge and was regularly taught in Guru-kulas. Those well versed in Ashva-shashtra were greatly respected at courts and enjoyed high positions. Though Indian religious mythology showed reservation in regard to horse, not associated with any of the Gods-trayi or other divinity like bull, the mount of Shiva, Garuda, the mount of Vishnu, lion, the mount of Durga, mouse, the mount of Ganesha, elephant, the mount of Indra … and so on, in Greek myths, however, horse emerges as early as the mid-thirteenth century BC. As have Virgil’s Aeneid (second book) and Odyssey of the seventh century BC Greek poet Homer, when after ten years of seize Greeks were unable to capture the city of Troy, under a strategy they lifted the seize and sailed away their forces. However, before they left they fabricated a large wooden horse and hid in its womb and neck some thirty-three selected solders and left it outside the gate of Troy. In the morning when Trojans found the seize lifted and that the Greeks had sailed off, they began rejoicing. When they opened the city’s gate, they found outside a large size proud wooden horse with its head held high that the Greeks had left. Taking it as the trophy of war they drove it in, dance around it and rejoiced. When the night fell, tired they retired to their homes. In the night the soldiers in the wooden horse came out of it, opened the city’s gate and the Greek soldiers who had sailed back stormed into the city and baffling its forces captured it.
Since then the Trojan horse has become the symbol of deceitful trap and is the universal model of an iconic horse. Artists world-over have sculpted/rendered the figure of the Trojan horse. Though it is difficult to assert that this three feet tall and two feet and eight inches high wooden replica of a horse has been modeled on the line of Trojan horse, it has great resemblance with most of them especially in the arrogance and proud bearing that it has on its face that had enraged the Trojans inspiring them to take it as their vengeance against Greeks. In India most of her horse related legends are from the Rajput world of medieval days. Such legends relate to a horse’s loyalty especially in battlefield. Besides Chetaka, the horse of the great Indian hero Maharana Pratap and the horse of Lakshmi Bai, the Maharani of Jhansi, there are dozens of annals that portray how a horse brought home a slain hero’s dead body or turban or some other article revealing its master’s identity.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.