Dancing Shiva
Cambodia, Post-Bayon Angkor Vat Revival style, thirteenth century
H. 41 cm
Private collection, New York

This dynamic eight-armed representation of Shiva radiates a powerful blend of calm and restrained inner energy. The great god Shiva, richly jeweled and wearing a sampot can kpin with an ornate girdle, is perfectly balanced on one foot. His pectoral and girdle are decorated with pendants front and back. The long earrings fall to the shoulders. The peaked top of the chignon is decorated with a lotus-flower design. Shiva is shown with ten arms, eight of which are raised on either side, and the other two are held in front of the body with the palms of the hands facing outward. The Shiva image is cast in a post-Bayon Angkor Vat revival style, and reflects Jayavarman VIII’s renewed enthusiasm for Hinduism during the latter half of the thirteenth century, probably as a reaction to the Buddhism of Jayavarman VII.

Shiva’s characteristic third eye is shown on his forehead, and the Sanskrit symbol for the mantra Om is displayed on the front of his chignon. Early in Hindu mythology Shiva was known as a yoga master, and the third eye, crown of hair, and symbol Om combined present Shiva in the guise of a yogin. (1) In its original assemblage, the figure was probably shown dancing on a supine figure on a bronze base, both of which are now lost. So little is known of Khmer Tantric Hindu images that there is no known Khmer mandala with which to associate this figure. His “dance” posture is the same frenzied dance posture in which Hevajra is traditionally depicted. (2).

This Shiva image is lost-wax cast in several parts. The two sets of five arms were each cast separately, and then attached to the pre-cast head and torso. This type of construction is typical of twelfth-and-thirteenth century Khmer bronze sculpture, especially when the deity portrayed is multi-armed.

1. A twelfth-century bronze figure of Visnu-Vasudeva-Narayana in Phnom Penh also displays the character for the mantra Om on the front of his chignon, see Jessup et al. 1997, pp. 260–61.
2. Ibid., p. 316, no. 99

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