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Relief - Shiva as Bhikshatana

Shiva as Bhikshatana

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Tamil Nadu (made)

  • Date:

    18th century (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Probably carved mahwa wood (<i>illupai</i> in Tamil), a hard and durable wood which allows the carving of fine detail frequently used in Tamil Nadu for temple chariots.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

The wooden relief shows Shiva as the Enchanting Mendicant (Bhikshatana) accompanied on his left by a ganawith a begging bowl on his head and a spotted deer on his right leaping up to nibble a bud held in the god's right hand. They are shown within a smooth curved depression carved out of the wooden block which retains two mortices on its lower edge to enable it to be slotted into the main structure of the ratha.

The god is shown naked, bedecked in jewellery, including two disparate earrings to signify his male and female aspects, and sacred threads tied round his body. On his feet he is wearing a pair of toe-knob sandals (paduka) as befits his mendicant status. His matted locks are scraped back off his forehead, behind a jewelled headband with a central flame motif, and fall either side of his head to his shoulders. Resting among his locks are a crescent moon on the left and a tiny figure of the river goddess Ganga with a fish tail on the right. He has four arms with the two front ones holding the top half of a skull in his proper left hand, while feeding a prancing spotted deer from his proper right hand. Behind his arms hold up a small damaru drum and a trident that rests across the back of his head.

Place of Origin

Tamil Nadu (made)


18th century (made)

Materials and Techniques

Probably carved mahwa wood (illupai in Tamil), a hard and durable wood which allows the carving of fine detail frequently used in Tamil Nadu for temple chariots.


Height: 27.625 in, Width: 11.75 in

Object history note

This image of Shiva refers to his manifestation as a beggar in the Pine Forest at an ashram of Vedic forest dwellers, whose wives became enamoured of him despite his unprepossessing appearance. The forest sages become enraged and attack him to no avail. Finally Shiva tears off and throws down his penis in front of them and disappears The outcome of this incident is that the sages subsequently take up the practice of Shiva-linga worship.

Descriptive line

Wooden relief from a temple chariot (ratha) depicting Shiva as Bhikshatana, the wandering ascetic, from Tamil Nadu dating from the eighteenth century.

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

Balraj Khanna and George Michell. Human and divine : 2000 years of Indian sculpture. London: Hayward Gallery, c.2000. ISBN: 1853322105





Subjects depicted

Hinduism; Subject


South & South East Asia Collection

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