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Figure - Vishnu Chaturmurti

Vishnu Chaturmurti

  • Object:

    Figure

  • Place of origin:

    Patan, Nepal (made)

  • Date:

    9th century-10th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Stone, carved

  • Museum number:

    IS.30-1987

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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This sculpture takes the form of a pillar, with four figures of the Hindu god Vishnu emerging from the shaft. This four-fold manifestation is known as ‘caturmurti’. There are three representations of Vishnu in his supreme form as Para-Vasudeva, and one in his man-lion appearance (‘Narasimha avatara’).

The figures face the four cardinal directions, so asserting Vishnu’s claim as a Universal Sovereign. Vishnu in his human form holds in his raised arms an elliptical discus (‘cakra’) and a club (‘gada’). His lower hands are damaged but probably one held a conch shell (‘sangka’), while the other gestured grace to his devotees.

The pillar appears to take the form of a linga – the phallic symbol of Shiva. This is a reminder that this composition of multiple forms of Vishnu took its inspiration from the Saivite version of this subject. Ultimately it may be traced to the ‘caturmukhalinga’, the four-faced linga with the four aspects of Shiva, which first appeared in the early Kushan period (1st-3rd centuries AD), if not earlier.

The figures of Visnu stand on an octagonal plinth decorated with a foliate design inspired by the style of the Gupta period (320-about 540 AD) in northern India. This is a reminder that the model for this composition is to be found in that style of which the art of the Licchavi period (about 300-800 AD) in Nepal was a natural extension.

Physical description

Vishnu Caturmurtilinga

This is a sculpture depicting a linga-like pillar with four figures of Vishnu emerging from the shaft, in his four-fold manifestation (caturmurti). The representations of Visnu, three in his supreme form as Para-Vasudeva, and one in his man-lion appearance (Narasimha avatara), are positioned facing the four cardinal directions, so asserting Visnu’s claim as a Universal Sovereign. Visnu in his human form holds in his raised arms an elliptical discus (cakra) and a club (gada); his lower hands are damaged but may be presumed to have held a conch shell (sangka) in one hand, the other gesturing grace to his devotees.

The apparent linga-form of the pillar, Shiva ultimate symbol, is a reminder that this composition of multiple forms of Vishnu took its inspiration from the Saivite version of this subject. Ultimately it may be traced to the caturmukhalinga, the four-faced linga addorsed with the four faces (aspects) of Shiva, which first made its appearance in the early Kushan period, if not earlier. The appearance of this configuration of Vishnu images on a linga-like form also is a reminder of the remarkable degree of syncretism that occurred in early Nepalese religious imagery, not only within Hinduism, as seen here, but also between Hinduism and Buddhism. The pillar with four directional figures also occurs in Buddhist art, in the caturmukha shrines often to be found in the courtyards of Licchavi-period Nepalese monasteries.

The figures of Visnu stand on an octagonal plinth decorated with a Gupta-style foliate design, a reminder that the model for this composition is to be found in the Gupta style of northern India, of which the art of Licchavi-period Nepal was an natural extension.

Place of Origin

Patan, Nepal (made)

Date

9th century-10th century (made)

Artist/maker

unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Stone, carved

Dimensions

Height: 17.5 cm, Diameter: 10.5 cm

Historical context note

The apparent linga-form of the pillar, Shiva ultimate symbol, is a reminder that this composition of multiple forms of Vishnu took its inspiration from the Saivite version of this subject. Ultimately it may be traced to the caturmukhalinga, the four-faced linga addorsed with the four faces (aspects) of Shiva, which first made its appearance in the early Kushan period, if not earlier. The appearance of this configuration of Vishnu images on a linga-like form also is a reminder of the remarkable degree of syncretism that occurred in early Nepalese religious imagery, not only within Hinduism, as seen here, but also between Hinduism and Buddhism. The pillar with four directional figures also occurs in Buddhist art, in the caturmukha shrines often to be found in the courtyards of Licchavi-period Nepalese monasteries.
The figures of Vishnu stand on an octagonal plinth decorated with a Gupta-style foliate design, a reminder that the model for this composition is to be found in the Gupta style of northern India, of which the art of Licchavi-period Nepal was an natural extension.

Descriptive line

Vishnu Caturmurtilinga, stone, Kathmandu, Nepal, 9th-10th century

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

Guy, John: 'Indian Temple Sculpture', London, V & A Publication, 2007, p.148, pl.167. ISBN 9781851775095.
Guy, John (ed.). 'L'Escultura en els Temples Indis: L'Art de la Devocio', Barcelona : Fundacio 'La Caixa', 2007. p.209. ISBN 9788476649466
Guy, John (ed.). 'L'Escultura en els Temples Indis: L'Art de la Devocio', Barcelona : Fundacio 'La Caixa', 2007. p.209. Guy, John (ed.). ‘L’Escultura en els Temples Indis: L’Art de la Devocio’, Barcelona : Fundacio ‘La Caixa’, 2007. p.103, fig.57 ISBN 9788476649466

Exhibition History

: L’escultura en els temples indis: l’art de la devocio (CaixaForum, Barcelona 27/07/2007-18/11/2007)

Production Note

Kathmandu, Nepal

Subjects depicted

Hinduism

Categories

Stoneware

Collection code

SSEA

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Qr_O69562
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