3. Shiva Lingodbhavamurti
India, Tamil Nadu
Chola, early 12th century
height 122 cm.
This rare stone sculpture depicts the powerful Hindu god Shiva in his manifestation as Lingodbhava. The iconography is explained by a narrative of competition for status between Brahma and Vishnu. As they argued over who was the most powerful, an immense column of fire appeared between them that seemed to have neither top nor bottom. Astonished by this inexplicable vision they determined to seek its beginning and end. Brahma assumed the form of a goose and flew high into the sky while Vishnu took the shape of a boar and burrowed deep into the earth. When neither could find either top or bottom they returned to earth, realizing that the column of fire was more powerful than both of them. At that point the column split open and Shiva emerged in his full glory. Overawed, Brahma and Vishnu bowed down to Shiva as the most powerful deity.
Here, the figure of Shiva is beautifully integrated into the oval shape of the yoni from which he appears. At the bottom of the column the boar-headed Vishnu seemingly plunges into the earth, while at the top the goose is poised to take flight. Shiva’s torso and limbs are superbly modelled: his upper hands hold the axe and deer; his lower left hand rests lightly on his hip and his raised right hand is in abhayamudra, the gesture of reassurance. He is lavishly adorned with jewellery – a karandamukuta, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and other ornaments – and locks of hair fall onto his shoulders. The top of the column is finished with a garland.
Chola artists were renowned for the lively expression with which they depicted their gods and this sculpture is a convincing and assured reflection of that important period in India’s art history. Shiva’s upright stance, the shape of the karandamukuta, the sacred cord, and in particular the fine openwork jewellery, are all characteristic of the Chola style. With his radiantly vibrant face and expression of serene supremacy, this rare sculpture provides a potent image of Shiva’s cosmic energy.
Private collection, the Netherlands.
R. Y. Lefebvre d’Argencé, Asian Art. Museum and University Collections in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, 1978, fig. 150.
R. Russek, Hinduismus, Bilderkanon und Deutung , Battenberg Verlag, München, 1986, no. 167 and no. 219.
P. Pal, Indian sculpture, Vol. 2, Los Angeles County Museum Of Art, nr. 145, pp. 273-274.
A. Okada, Sculptures Indiennes Du Musée Guimet, Trésors du Musée Guimet, Paris, 2000, pp. 165-167, fig. 63.
J. Van Alphen, Tejas. Eternal Energy. 1500 Years of Indian Art, Bozar, Brussels, 2007, p. 206.
Art Loss Register Certificate, Reference: S00064700.