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Details & Cataloguing

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Shiva as Brahma
Granite
Southern India, Chola Period

This exquisitely carved life size sculpture portrays Shiva seated on a double lotus pedestal in the posture of ease (lalitasana), with his four heads facing the four cardinal directions, each bearing Shiva’s attribute, the third eye at the center of his forehead. His hair is gathered into an ascetics hairstyle, a single, towering chignon of looped tresses (jatamukuta), secured with jeweled diadems at the forehead and surmounted with crowns. His diaphanous dhoti falls in fine pleats across his legs and is elegantly knotted at the waist with one end terminating in a raised fan-shaped fold at the back. He is adorned with elaborately carved jewelry in raised relief including bracelets, anklets, necklaces of strung jewels and pearls, a jeweled waistband (katisutra) and armbands embellished with a large foliate design. A triple-stringed sacred cord (yajnopavita) with jeweled terminals rests on his left shoulder. Shiva’s principal head is adorned with two different types of earring, a disc on the right and a leonine ornament on the left, a stylistic convention seen in the earliest sculpture of India which also served as a metaphor for the unity of both male and female aspects within a single godhead. Two of his four hands bear a lotus and a rosary, while his other two hands display the gesture of beneficence (varada mudra) and the fear abiding gesture (abhaya mudra). The dark stone is highly polished on the front, whereas the back is carved, but detailed to a lesser degree and unpolished.


Height: 64 in (162.6 cm)

10th century


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Provenance

C. T. Loo & Co., New York, 1927.

 

Exhibited

Exhibition of Hindu, Khmer, Chinese Sculptures and Early Chinese Bronzes, Wildenstein Galleries, New York, 1927
Manifestations of Shiva, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1981-1982

Literature

O. C. Gangoly, “Some Images of Brahma of the Chola Period,” Rupam, Nos. 35-36, July-October 1928, pp. 29-30, Fig. A
Alvan C. Eastman, “A Brahma Image of the X-XI Century,” Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Vol. 10, No. 3, December 1928, pp. 34-36, cover
The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, Andrew C. Ritchie (ed.) Catalogue of the Paintings and Sculpture in the Permanent Collection, Buffalo, 1949, p. 154
Aschwin Lippe, “Divine Images in Stone and Bronze,” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 4, 1971, p. 38, Figs. 10 & 11
Steven A. Nash, with Katy Kline, Charlotta Kotik and Emese Wood, Albright-Knox Art Gallery: Painting and Sculpture from Antiquity to 1942, Buffalo, 1979, pp. 90-91
Stella Kramrisch, Manifestations of Shiva, Philadelphia, 1981, Cat. 45, p. 54

Catalogue Note

The Chola period, ninth through the thirteenth centuries, witnessed unparalleled cultural and artistic achievements and is widely considered to be a ‘golden age’ in south Indian history. At the height of their power the Chola monarchs controlled a vast territory that included the southern part of the Indian peninsula and extended to Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands. They were active patrons of the arts, built numerous temples, mostly dedicated to Shiva whom they considered to be their patron deity (kulanayaka), and it was in such a cultural climate that this sculpture of Shiva was produced.

Shiva is one of the principal deities in the Hindu pantheon and part of a Trinitarian godhead along with Brahma and Vishnu. The present sculpture belongs to a group of unusual images from this period, initially identified as Brahma but now attributed to be Shiva. Shiva was conceived from the mind of Brahma, the Creator but ultimately Brahma ceded his position to Shiva in recognition of the latter’s omnipotent power. The present image blends the iconography of the two deities, connecting Shiva’s nature with that of his progenitor Brahma, and underscoring Shiva’s duality as the Omniscient One who bears the seed of both Creation and Destruction.

The lotus bud and the rosary are attributes associated with Brahma, however the third eye on the forehead establishes the image as that of Shiva. It has been suggested that the fourth face on the back possibly represents Rudra, the fearsome manifestation of Shiva. The iconography of the sculpture is both fascinating and complex and depictions of the deity in the present form, particularly of this quality, are extremely rare.

A comparable example can be seen in The Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan. Two other images of Shiva as Brahma belonging to the same period presently reside in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Also compare the jewelry, the style of the dhoti draped across the legs, the modeling of the limbs and hands and the monumental sculptural form of an image of Devi as Destroyer of Nishumbha in Government Museum and Venkatappa Art Gallery, Bangalore published in Dehejia, V.; Devi; The Great Goddess, Female Divinity in South Asian Art, Washington, 1999, p.217, fig. 3.

The Lord, First in heaven

and in all other worlds,

the lord who defies the gods' comprehension,

the supreme lord

who swallowed all of creation

and razed the three cities,

the lord who gives knowledge even to the gods ...

Tamil Devotional Song
(Dehejia, 2002, p. 48)

 

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Indian and Southeast Asian Works of Art

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