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A fine Indo-Portuguese inlaid teak wood figure of Nagini
India, Goa, 17th century

H. 55 cm

The sculpture can be perceived as such but probably is one of four legs of an Indo-Portuguese contador. These famous profusely inlaid cabinets are possibly the embodiment of colonial furniture. Depicted here are a Naga with a woman’s head and torso and a curling serpent’s lower body. Nagini
is the female version of the Naga, the Sanskrit word for a deity or class of entity or being, taking the form of a giant snake.

In Hindu religious culture, Nagas are considered nature spirits closely associated with water, rivers, lakes and seas, protectors of springs, wells and rivers, propitiating rain, and thus fertility.

 

They are object of great reverence even in modern times and especially in South India, where they are still worshipped as female deities, particularly by women devotees, bringing them fertility and prosperity. The Nagini serves an apotropaic function when part of a cabinet: to ward off evil intentions by protecting the contents hidden in this type of furniture used to store valuables, such as money, documents, jewellery and precious objects.

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