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Figure - Shiva Ardhanarishvara

Shiva Ardhanarishvara

  • Object:

    Figure

  • Place of origin:

    Mathura (made)

  • Date:

    Late 2nd century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved red sandstone

  • Museum number:

    IM.5-1931

  • Gallery location:

    South Asian Sculpture, Room 47b, case 4

This red sandstone carving shows a knee-length composite figure in high relief. It is a phallic symbol of Shiva in the Ardhanarishvara Murti. This is the name of the androgynous form in which Shiva is depicted as 'the Lord who is Half-woman'.

Here the sculpture is divided vertically. The right half is male and has the third eye and an erect penis. The left half is female with a prominent breast, waist-girdle and hair plaits. The male arm is missing. The figure stands against a phallus, carved in low relief on the back with a demon face.

Among the earliest anthropomorphic sculptures of Siva to appear is that of Siva in his androgynous form, Ardhanarishvara, ‘the Lord who is Half-Woman’. In this manifestation, Siva reveals himself in a bi-sexual form, divided vertically, with Parvati occupying his left-half. This example, from the early Kushan period, is amongst the earliest known occurrence of this subject. In addition to these all to rare examples of Kushan period Ardhanarishvara figures, this subject also appears as one of the Siva’s faces on some of the earliest caturmukhalinga (‘four-faced linga’). These depictions, important from the beginnings of anthropomorphic representation of the Brahmanical gods, give form to concepts already expressed in the most ancient compendium of Indian religious thought, the Rgveda.

Carved in high relief, the composite figure stands in a relaxed manner, with a vertical division separating the two entities. Siva’s form is on the right, distinguished by a taut muscular and ‘masuline’ form and the aroused penis which projects upwards from his waist-cloth. Siva’s third eye is vertically divided and only half represented; similarly the hair styles differ, set apart by this vertical divide. Parvati’s half is more rounded and ‘feminine’ in its form, and displays a single breast, long tresses of hair and a decorated girdle, clearly distinguished from Siva’s simple waist cord. Parvati’s hand appears to hold a flower; the missing arm of Siva presumably was gesturing protection (abhayamudra), as seen on other surviving examples of this subject.

The figure stands against a phallic-like linga, Siva’s emblem. On the reverse the anatomical markings make the phallic-associations explicit. A demonic face is also carved in bas-relief, perhaps a depiction of Rudra the ‘howler’, the wild Vedic god from whom Siva (‘’the auspicious”) claims his ancestry.

Physical description

Shiva in his half male, half female form - the female side representing his consort Parvati. Carved in high relief, the composite figure stands in a relaxed manner, with a vertical division separating the two entities. Shiva’s form is on the left ( his proper right side), distinguished by a taut muscular and masculine form and the aroused penis which projects upwards from his waist-band. Shiva’s third eye is vertically divided and only half represented. He has a curling moustache and a long earlobe, and his matted locks are piled up in ribbed ridges on his head. The only jewellery he has is a beaded necklace round his neck. His torso is otherwise bare but his sacred thread is delineated by two simple lines. Parvati’s half is more rounded and feminine in its form, displaying a single rounded breast, adjacent to a decorative cord which morphs into Shiva's sacred thread on his side. Her hair is shown in the feminine Kushan style with a flat oval bun in front and the remainder of her hair pulled back in ribbed tresses. She is wearing a heavy tasselled earring and numerous wrist and arm bangles. Below her waist she wears a girdle with scalloped decoration over a diaphanous lower garment. Parvati’s hand appears to hold a flower; the missing arm of Shiva presumably was gesturing protection (abhayamudra), as seen on other surviving examples of this subject.
The figure stands against a phallic-like linga, Shiva’s emblem. On the reverse the anatomical markings make the phallic-associations explicit. A demonic face is also carved in bas-relief, perhaps a depiction of Rudra the ‘howler’, the wild Vedic god from whom Shiva (‘’the auspicious”) claims his ancestry'.

Place of Origin

Mathura (made)

Date

Late 2nd century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved red sandstone

Dimensions

Height: 27 cm, Width: 10.5 cm, Depth: 6 cm

Object history note

Purchased from Imre Schwaiger in 1931, RP 1931/5401
The Shiva Ardhanarishvara image can be read as a syncretism of Shiva and Shakti (female personification of a male god's energy) cults. It is a statement of inclusiveness, of the completeness of Shiva's creation and as a symbol of his omnipotence is the closest conceptually of any of the Shiva icons to the linga form itself.

Descriptive line

Shiva Ardhanarishvara, sandstone, Mathura, north India, late 2nd century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

G.Kreisel, Die Siva Bildwerke der Mathura Kunst, Stuttgart, 1988, Pl. 114 a,b
Guy, John (ed.). ‘L’Escultura en els Temples Indis: L’Art de la Devocio’, Barcelona : Fundacio ‘La Caixa’, 2007. ISBN 9788476649466. p.98, cat.48.
Guy, John, Indian Temple Sculpture, V&A Publications, 2007, pp.141-142, pl.158

This object features in 'Out on Display: A selection of LGBTQ-related objects on display in the V&A', a booklet created by the V&A's LGBTQ Working Group. First developed and distributed to coincide with the 2014 Pride in London Parade, the guide was then expanded for the Queer and Now Friday Late that took place in February 2015.

Labels and date

6. The Hindu God Shiva as Ardhanishvara
(Lord Who Is Half Woman)
150–200
Kushan period
Sandstone
Northern India (Mathura, Uttar Pradesh)
Museum no. IM.5-1931 [06/06/2011]

Production Note

Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India

Materials

Red sandstone

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Hinduism

Categories

Sculpture; Hinduism; Gender and Sexuality

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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