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Marcel Nies

11. Srikantha Kamakala
Nepal; Early Malla
14th century
Copper alloy, traces of gilding, cast in the lost wax method
height 31.5 cm

Srikantha Kamakala

This very rare iconographycal group represents a tantric form of the important Hindu god Shiva in sexual embrace (yab-yum) with his wife Parvati, from whom he derives his energy (Sakti). It is a manifestation of Shiva as Srikantha engaged in copulation (Kamakali). The great lord Shiva is considered a powerful god in the cycle of destruction, preservation and creation. The three eyes of Shiva represent the sun, the moon and fire- the three sources of light that illuminate the earth, the sphere of space and the sky. The crescent moon in his hairdress shows the power of procreation coexistent with that of destruction. Shiva's jata, or knot of matted hair, represents the lord of wind. Shiva is characterised by his cosmic energy which is connected with his Sakti Parvati, who is the ultimate goddess of all things in the universe. This particular group of the popular Hindu couple has to be placed in the context of destruction; as Shiva is trampling on two demons. It shows similarities with depictions of Buddhist Yidam protector gods and their Saktis, some of them dating from the same period and with similar complex concept and quality.

Depicted with five heads and ten arms, Shiva is dancing in the Ardhaparya pose, trampling on two demons lying beneath his foot. Nandi (the bull) and the lion are depicted on the base, representing the universal vehicles of the couple. Shiva holds his primary hands in varada and abhaya mudra, his remaining eight hands radiating around him and holding a human skin and attributes including a trisula, triratna, danda, mala, and pustaka. Parvati is depicted with twelve arms and six heads, her left leg wrapped around Shiva's waist, and her right leg trampling on a demon, who is lying on the lion. She is holding attributes including a kapala, ghanta, capa, karttrika, Sara, triratna and a trisula. Like Shiva, her heads are adorned with a five-leaved skull crown diadem and she is wearing bracelets, earrings, a necklace, anklets and ornaments.

The art of the early Malla period (1200-1480 A.D.) reflects the stylistic taste of the early Malla monarchs, who ruled over the Katmandu valley, and can be considered a highlight in the art history of Nepal. The high quality of both the technical casting and the lively artistic imagination exemplifies the skills of the Newari masters during that time. The typical early Malla characteristics are revealed by the convincing concept with powerful movements, and well pronounced features; the typical stylistic elements comprise the jewellery, including the double bracelets and tiaras, ornaments, and the design of the pronounced floral motifs.

This inspired composition of the Hindu couple Shiva and Parvati, manifesting as Sirkantha Kamakala is united in a convincing, harmonious and well balanced form. The various positions and striking movements create a sense of organic rhythm and dynamic force, revealing their physical inseparability, and strong emotional interrelationship. This tantric group is well modelled and exhibits finely articulated features; it reflects the rarest quality and may be considered a masterpiece of early Nepalese art.

Formerly in the collection of Spink & Son ltd, London

all text, images © Marcel Nies

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