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8. Architectural fragment
Northern India, Rājasthan
11th c.
45 cm
Architectural fragment

This architectural fragment from an edifice contains a depiction of the Hindu god Vishnu in high relief. The deity is seated in the relaxation position (ardhaparyaka), but reversed, with his right leg folded beneath him and his left leg hanging. The god, wearing a royal tiara (kirita), has four arms. The first right hand is broken off but was probably making the gesture of pacification (patakamudra). The second right hand, raised, brandishes the wheel (chakra) and the second left hand holds the mace (gada), two of the god’s main attributes. The first left hand, turned downward and partially broken off holds the conch (?). In spite of anomalies in the order of the attributes, we can see that this representation is a variant of Vasudeva, one of the most important aspects of Vishnu.

The character is sitting in an elegant pavilion whose roof, with superposed levels (prasada), is held up by ringed columns. The lower part of this roof has a frieze of fine diamond shaped elements that could be interpreted as stylized flowers. Above is a tympanum made up of a succession of small “Indian arches”, laid out like a fishnet, as was often done in medieval times. A large ribbed fruit (amalaka) crowns the building, like many rounded towers (sikharas) of Hindu sanctuaries.

Two female attendants, half hidden behind the columns stand on either side of the god. They have no attributes and their purely decorative presence makes it impossible to identify them as the god’s wives. They are mere Devatas, which are numerous on the outside walls of medieval temples. Of more interest, on the right, is the fragment of a protomé of the mythical makara, half-crocodile, half-elephant. The symbol of the sky, this chimera is the guarantee of abundant rain. It is traditionally found in the upper sections of numerous sculptures. This detail might mean that this fragment is part of a larger ensemble, perhaps the right side of the top of an abutment, with the volute on the left being part of the decorative motifs over the door of a sanctuary.

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