Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
South Asian Sculpture, Room 47b

Nandi

Figure
late 16th century-early 17th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This is an image of Nandi, the sacred bull-calf. In Sanskrit Nandi means ‘joyfulness’ or ‘blissfulness’ and refers to the emotions experienced by a devotee in the presence of Lord Shiva.

Temples dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu lord of creation and destruction, are found throughout the Indian subcontinent. An essential element in any Shiva temple is the image of Nandi. It occupies an axial position, focusing the attention of the faithful from the outer halls of the temple directly into its spiritual heart, the ‘garbhagrha’ (‘womb chamber’).

Images of this scale and larger were usually housed in a pillared hall (‘mandapa’). This building stood independent of the temple but allowed Nandi to face directly into the eastern porch to the linga (phallic symbol of Shiva) sanctuary. This made explicit Nandi's intimate relationship with Shiva.

Nandi symbolises the religious duty (‘dharma’) of a devotee. As Shiva’s ultimate devotee, Nandi is in turn first worshipped by those intending to pay homage to Shiva himself in the temple sanctuary. He is represented as a bull-calf and always couchant. Nandi in the form of a processional vehicle (‘vahana’) is represented standing. Processional Nandis are typically constructed of wood which is then either painted or covered in sheet silver, depending on the wealth of the temple.

Object details

Categories
Object type
TitleNandi (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Serpentine
Brief description
Nandi, serpentine, Southern Deccan, India, Late 16th-early 17th century
Physical description
The polished serpentine Nandi bull rests on a plain unpolished plinth. He is seated with his two right legs bent in by his body, with the rear left leg tucked in underneath and the fore left leg raised and placed in front of him. He is caparisoned with a saddle cloth with a decorative border placed over a girth and double rows of beaded body ornaments supporting rows of small bells. One ornament encircles his hump and is draped over his body and under his tail which is flicked up over his rump to the right. Another is twisted round his two small horns on the top of his head and further ones encircle his two front hocks. A plainer double row necklace hangs round his neck over his dewlap which hangs down over his chest in a series of folds. He has two long and one shorter twisted tresses which hang down over his shoulders and neck at the back, doubtless associated with the matted tresses of the God Shiva, for whom Nandi is the vehicle. This association is further emphasised by the incised third eye on his forehead.
Dimensions
  • Height: 51.5cm
  • Width: 26.7cm
  • Depth: 14cm
  • Weight: 260kg
Gallery label
Nandi, Shiva’s Sacred Bull Calf 1550–1650 Every Hindu temple dedicated to the worship of Shiva has an image of the bull calf Nandi (‘Joyfulness’). Nandi is Shiva’s vahana (sacred vehicle) and most devoted worshipper. His image is positioned in a special shrine in the temple courtyard, facing directly into the central sanctuary that houses the principal Shiva image. Serpentine stone Southern India (Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh, Deccan) Museum no. IS.73-1990 (06/06/2011)
Object history
Bought from Spink & Son
Historical context
Temples dedicated to the deity Shiva, the Hindu lord of creation and destruction, are to be found throughout the Indian subcontinent. An essential element in any Shiva temple is the image of Nandi, the sacred calf-bull, whose name means "joyfulness" or "blissfulness". In the ordering of temple space, Nandi occupies an axial position, focusing the attention of the faithful from the outer halls of the temple directly into its spiritual heart, the garbhagriha, or "womb chamber". Images of this scale and larger were usually housed in a pillared hall or mandapa, which stood independent of the temple, so that Nandi's intimate relationship with Shiva was made explicit.
Production
Southern Deccan, India
Subject depicted
Summary
This is an image of Nandi, the sacred bull-calf. In Sanskrit Nandi means ‘joyfulness’ or ‘blissfulness’ and refers to the emotions experienced by a devotee in the presence of Lord Shiva.

Temples dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu lord of creation and destruction, are found throughout the Indian subcontinent. An essential element in any Shiva temple is the image of Nandi. It occupies an axial position, focusing the attention of the faithful from the outer halls of the temple directly into its spiritual heart, the ‘garbhagrha’ (‘womb chamber’).

Images of this scale and larger were usually housed in a pillared hall (‘mandapa’). This building stood independent of the temple but allowed Nandi to face directly into the eastern porch to the linga (phallic symbol of Shiva) sanctuary. This made explicit Nandi's intimate relationship with Shiva.

Nandi symbolises the religious duty (‘dharma’) of a devotee. As Shiva’s ultimate devotee, Nandi is in turn first worshipped by those intending to pay homage to Shiva himself in the temple sanctuary. He is represented as a bull-calf and always couchant. Nandi in the form of a processional vehicle (‘vahana’) is represented standing. Processional Nandis are typically constructed of wood which is then either painted or covered in sheet silver, depending on the wealth of the temple.
Bibliographic references
  • J Guy, "Nandi, the Joyful Bull", The Art Quarterly of the National Art Collection Fund, No 8, 1991, pp. 28-31
  • Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.
  • L'escultura en el temples indis : l'art de la devoció : exposició organitzada per la Fundació "La Caixa" i el Victoria & Albert Museum, Londres. [Barcelona: Obra social, Fundació "la Caixa", c2007 Number: 9788476649466 p.101, Cat.53
  • Guy, John. Indian Temple Sculpture. London, V&A Publications, 2007, p. 83 and pl. 92 ISBN 971851775095
Collection
Accession number
IS.73-1990

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Record createdFebruary 13, 2000
Record URL
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