Four headed Shiva is a legendary innovation whereas the five headed Shiva is widely ritual and a part of folk tradition. In Shiva iconography the four headed Shiva has four heads on all four sides and sometimes, not always, the Ganga head as fifth on the top. The five headed Shiva has four heads on four sides and the fifth one on the top. Both of these forms are ten handed. In this painting Shiva image has on its three visible sides three heads and the fourth one on top. The head on the top is exactly similar to his other heads. It has nothing in common with Ganga head. May be, in a two dimensional depiction the artist rendered Shiva's fourth head on the top of the figure and thus the painting represents just four headed deity. If the presence of the fourth head on the side which is not visible is presumed, it becomes the five headed form of Shiva.
As the legend has it, Shiva's four heads were of his own assumption. It is said, two demons, Sund and Upsunda, born of Nisumbha and hence real brothers, obtained from Brahma the boon of invincibility against all born ones save mutually, that is, none else but they themselves could kill each other. Inflated with ego and false ambitions they decided and conquered all three worlds and began creating on earth great havoc and inflicted heinous atrocities on innocent mankind. Finally on prayers of gods and behest of Brahma Prajapati created Tilottama from the womb of sage Kashyapa's wife. As means her name, Tilottama was created out of 'tila', that is, the particles of diamonds and 'uttama', that is, all the best in the world. Her beauty was hence unsurpassed in all three worlds. She was acclaimedly created for inciting hostility between Sunda and Upasunda leading them to fight against each other and get killed. It is said she was summoned to Indraloka before she was assigned the job of approaching Sunda and Upasunda. She appeared before Brahma and Shiva who stood respectively facing south and north. Shiva enamoured of her beauty wanted to see Tilottama always and from all sides. He hence created on all four sides four heads for satiating his thirst for Tilottama's beauty and despite all a Ganga head for keeping cool his wild passion. It is said it was for enjoying Tilottama's beauty that Indra had assumed a hundred thousand eyes.
This fine Mandi style painting discovers, and quite effectively, all forms of Shiva in light tints of pink, orange, grey, green and black using them all very sparingly. Shiva is in meditative posture with vines growing around his figure. The locks of his hair suspend serpent like from his head. He has on his neck a serpent, on her arms 'rudrakshas', on her hands beads and on her feet 'mahawara, On each of his foreheads he has a moon and the mark of sandal paste. In his ten hands he carries trident, mace, conch, sword, drum, bowl, snake, ring, lotus and shield. He is clad in lion skin. Symbolically the Mahashiva is all pervading and all protecting, hence has five heads to guard all directions and ten hands to accomplish all objects.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture. the Miniature Paintings Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi.