The peacock was a popular motif in all periods of Indian art. A large incense burner in the shape of this proud bird strikes a remarkable balance between the abstraction of Islam and the sculptural qualities of the Indian tradition. Made of thickly cast brass, now covered in a rich black patina, the body and neck are pierced with large holes for the escape of the sweet-smelling smoke. The comma-shaped curls on the back, tail and crest indicate a southern origin. The ancient Deccani motif, of a bird holding tiny elephants in its claws, is carved on the sixteenth-century bastions of Golconda Fort, a theme used in a second peacock incense burner.
The massively cast bronze peacock finial has none of the playfully curled plumes of the Deccan, but rather that sturdy sobriety of line associated with northern India. Indian connections can be better understood when one examines the rather small metal birds, usually parrots that surmounted the classic hanging oil lamps of Sultanate and Mughal India. The birds formed containers for the oil, and numerous examples are preserved in Indian public and private collections.
The most finely proportioned bird to have survived, happily combining the abstraction of the Middle East with the plasticity of India, is the incense burner. A second peacock incense burner is conceived in a vigorous style. Its back extends into a long handle composed of an open-mouthed south Indian yali monster - the mythological leonine beast with wings, common in the south Indian repertoire and a bell-shaped support. It holds tiny elephants in its claws, an ancient Deccani motif seen on the walls of Golconda fort. Incense can be burned either inside the bird's body or, in stick form, in the cavities at the end of its tail and in the lotus flower held aloft in the trunk of one of the small elephants. The double string of pearls around the peacock's neck is just one of many features shared by both the burners, suggesting a common date and provenance. A third avian burner is also related in style and arrangement of parts. The handle is again a crouching, open-mouthed yali monster, but the bird perches on a round platform instead of gripping miniature elephants, and its tail does not have hollows to accommodate incense sticks.
Only a few other such objects can be assigned to this early period. A solid but roughly cast iron yali grasps tiny elephants in its claws and lassolike tail and even swallows one whole. This was doubtless fashioned in sixteenth or seventeenth-century Golconda, on the basis of its similarity to carvings on the walls of Golconda fort. It is also closely related to the incense burners: it has the same bulging eyes and ridged collar, although it lacks the necessary hollowness and opening in its back to hold the incense. Resting on a thick slab platform, it may have served as a weight in commerce: zoomorphic metal weights are known from West Africa, lion weights were used in southern Arabia, and twelfth-century Deccani lion statuettes on similar rectangular platforms, which might be weights, have recently been discovered.
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