Mathurā region, Uttar Pradesh, India
5th century CE
Spotted pink sandstone
This standing male figure shows the conjoined Brahmanical deities Śiva and Vishnu, in the iconographic form known as Harihara.
The figure has been quite naturalistically sculpted out of pinkish-red sandstone which can be found in the Mathurā region. It depicts a male figure, with both arms broken off at the upper arms, as well as at the knees. However, what remains is still most beautifully carved. What is particularly arresting about this image is its bare torso which is very well-proportioned and almost life-like in its tautness, with just a slight suggestion of a belly which indicated the presence of prāna or life breath in the sculpture. This kind of realistic portrayal of the torso was a hallmark of the Gupta period and helps to determine a date for the sculpture around the early 5th century CE.
The Harihara image wears a necklace and a bejeweled waistband, which is bifurcated into Śiva and Vishnu’s sides by the erect phallus or urdhvamedhra of Śiva, which shows some damage. The sculptor has taken care to show different designs on each side of the waist band. Harihara wears a large kundala earring only on the left ear of the Vishnu side, leaving the elongated lobe of the right ear bare. The face has been sculpted with the care typical of Gupta sculpture, showing a face deeply focussed inward, with lotus shaped eyes, a long nose and full lips. The hair and headdress is where the demarcation between the two deities is most clearly portrayed. Śiva’s right side, carefully utilising the white marks within the natural sandstone, has been shown as the matted locks or jatā mukuta typical of the ascetic Śiva. It is interesting to note the way in which the matted locks curl at the ends which is typical of the hair depiction of the Gupta period. On the left side, we see the typical high crown or kirīta mukuta of Vishnu. Thus, they confirm the identification of the image as that of the composite deity Harihara.
There are two fragments from Harihara images for example at the Bharat Kala Bhavan in Varanasi, both assignable to the Gupta period.
A headless Harihara can be seen on the base of a four-faced column from Kutari in the Allahabad district. It depicts a four-armed standing image and despite the face being defaced, the different crowns can clearly be seen.
Finally, the image closest to our example can be seen in a Harihara figure in the National Museum, New Delhi from Madhya Pradesh.
Provenance: formerly in a French collection.
Detail: left and right sides