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Marcel Nies

5. Dakshinamurti
India; Chola
circa 1200 A.D.
height 97 cm.


In the Hindu trinity, Shiva is a powerful god in the cycle of destruction and creation. The great lord was using his cosmic energy to end all existence and make it arise once more. This image of Shiva in his Jnana Dakshinamurti form is depicting the god as the supreme teacher. Jnana means 'wisdom' or 'knowledge' and dakshina means 'grace'. Only through Shiva's infinite wisdom and grace one can attain supreme knowledge and be redeemed from the bondage of the phenomenal world. The god's right leg is resting on the 'child-like' dwarf apasmara purusha, who symbolises ignorance and plays with a snake in his right hand. Similar images of Shiva were generally enshrined on the southern walls of a temple.

Shiva is seated on the Himalayan mountains (stylised rock design); his right leg coming down and crushing the dwarf, his left foot resting on his right knee. A snake along with a crescent moon embellishes his beautiful elaborate hairdress of matted locks enriched with jewellery; the crescent moon symbolises the presiding deity of the element water, ruling over the tides of the sea. Curly hairlocks are falling onto his shoulders and upper arms, and on his forehead he bears a vertical urna (third eye). 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. Shiva's lower right hand makes the gesture of jnanamudra; his raised right hand is holding a mala with a snake image above. The lower left hand holds a manuscript; his raised left hand holds a flaming torch, both symbolizing knowledge. Emphasising his ascetic nature, the god is adorned with flowers above his ears, necklaces, bracelets, and ornaments; the yagnopavita (sacred cord) running diagonally over his torso. Depicted with a kirtimukha earring in his right ear, Shiva wears an open circular earring in his left earlobe.

The Chola empire was founded in circa 850 A.D. by Vijayalaya, based upon the ruins of the Pallavas. The Chola monarchs ruled over large parts of South India, expanding to the North and Sri Lanka in the following centuries; marking a highlight in Indian art history. This sculpture is a classic example of the Chola style in Tamil Nadu, South India. Typical for stone pieces of the period is the use of granite which lend the piece a feeling of immortality. Characteristics of the Chola period are the style of the bracelets and ornamentations, the elaborate hairdress with curly locks falling onto his shoulders, the pronounced volumes and typical features.

The philosophy of Saivism originated in early India periods. The Chola schools of art are among the highlights of Indian civilization, and are renowned for depicting their gods with great skills and lively expression. This monumental stone Shiva reflects the Chola style tradition in a pure and convincing way; striking in his solid position as if seated like a rock, contrasting beautifully with the movement of his legs and arms. Shiva's lively and serene facial expression, as well as the imposing well structured volumes, enhance his appearance as a supreme teacher.

Formerly in the collection of P. Delplace, Belgium, before 1973. Formerly in the collection of Dr. Macken, Belgium, 1973-1987. Formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. D. Winkel, Belgium, 1987-1999.

all text, images © Marcel Nies

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