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Christophe Hioco

Shiva Bhiksatana
End of the 11th c.
Height : 32 3/8 inches

This is a rare and exceptional depiction of Shiva as a mendicant, wandering the world for twelve years to atone for the sin of cutting off the fifth head of Brahmâ.

Standing in the three-bend pose, or tribhanga, the god has his back to the stele, which is finely decorated with a kirtimukha at the top, and also floral motifs. He has four arms; the top right hand holds a trident (trisula), the left a drum with striker pellets (damaru). The bottom hands, now broken off, probably held a sword in the right and in the left the bearded head of Brahmâ, which he used as a beggar’s bowl. His face, of near-perfect features, is crowned by an imposing mass of curls. His divine look is underlined by the fineness and profusion of ornamentation: majestic earrings, epaulettes, an abundance of sinuous necklaces, bracelets and armbands. Instead of a dhoti, he seems to wear a wide belt made of beads.

This work comes from the Karnataka region, with its complex history where the dynasties of Pallava, Calukya, Rastrakuta, Chola and Hoysala reigned in intervals between the 9th and 12th centuries. The piece seems to bear the mark of the late Calukya and so we date it from the late 11th century. It is remarkable in its languid pose and athletic feeling, as well as its full thighs and round stomach. The theme of Shiva cutting off the head of Brahmâ was a favorite with sculptors of Shiva’s Kapalika and Kalamukha sects, whose depictions are not only varied by grandiose.

This soapstone sculpture is remarkably well preserved, thanks to the material, which stands up perfectly over time.

Similar artwork can be found in the Collection Edward Binney 3rd, San Diego, Kramrisch, fig 4, 1981: cat 82, which shows one piece dated from the mid-12th century, and the Sculptures indiennes du musée Guimet, Trésors du Musée Guimet, catalogue, p.189-191 for a 13th century Bhairava.

For the iconography of Shiva Bhiksatana, consult Anne-Marie Lotte’s Védisme et hindouisme, images du divin et des dieux.

This piece has been exhibited in 2005 in Barcelona during the exhibition : « Arte sagrado de las tradiciones índicas: hinduismo, budismo y jainismo », and was published in the exhibition book.

Provenance: Spanish private collection.

all text, images Christophe Hioco


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