Previous Image | Sculpture From A Sacred Realm | Next Image

An Exhibition of Indian Sculpture
From 2nd century B.C. to 13th century A.D.

Standing Shiva
sandstone; North India
ca. 9th-10th century A.D.
height 67 cm width 40 cm depth 14 cm

The precise identity of this standing eight-armed Shiva figure is elusive, since its attributes do not conform to standard representations. The most unusual feature of this relief is the male figure placed on the base, with dagger drawn but subdued by Shiva. This figure perhaps refers to the deity's perpetual struggle with demons, or daityas, that is a major theme in Puranic myths. Individual demons associated with well-known narrative cycles appear in north Indian sculpture regularly, such as Andhakashuramurti, but this sculpture does not conform to any specific myth. Another Shiva from north India standing upon a similar prostrate figure is two-armed; the right hand of this deity holds a rosary and the left carries a club or sword.1 The attributes associated with the right hands include a drum, a trident, a rosary and a quiver; on the left is a bow, a snake and a club (his lowest hand holds the base of a club, spear or sword, the broken segment of which is still visible on his shoulder).2 A bull-faced helper of Shiva supports the quiver from which Shiva has selected an arrow.

Although the disposition of the eight arms and attributes is complex and evokes action, the torso and face of the central figure is marked by simplicity and calm. The luxuriant earrings resting on the figure's upper torso make a pleasing contrast with the bare chest. The lower garment, with faintly incised vertical striations, is encircled by three belts of different patterns, creating a series of planes. The bull-headed figure, his leg raised high and arms thrust in the air, captures the inventive and playful nature of Indian sculpture.

The work likely belongs to the ninth or tenth century and was probably crafted in Madhya Pradesh.

1. This example from the British Museum has been recently illustrated in Masterpieces of Buddhist and Hindu Sculpture from the British Museum (Kyoto, 1994), fig. 23. A similar prostrate figure, also often holding a dagger, is found beneath many figures of Chamunda from medieval north India. Such figures should not be confused with the dwarfish character, known as Apasmara, who often appears beneath images of Shiva in his role as Nataraja.

2. The Vishnudharmottara includes an eight-armed image of Shiva that shares at least four of the attributes witnessed on this figure (rosary, trident, arrow and bow). It also specifies a staff and spear, perhaps the missing weapon held in Shiva's lowered left hand. This textual description of Shiva belongs to the section describing the Trimurti. See D. C. Bhattacharyya, Pratimalaksana of the Visnudharmottara, (New Delhi: Harman Publishing House, 199l), pp. 5-6.

Text and images © Rossi and Rossi: not to be reproduced without permission

Previous Image | Sculpture From A Sacred Realm | Next Image