Different from a votive manifestation Ardhanarishvara, perhaps the third of his image-form, the aniconic ‘ling’ and iconic Pashupati/Mahayogi forms found on Indus seals and during excavations of Harappan sites being the earlier, seems to have been a vision of psycho-mystic mind that saw in him the cosmic seed that split to create all worlds, as also a blend of both sets of psyches, male and female, that makes him ‘absolute’. The Ardhanarishvara , broadly the manifestation of biological unity of the outward duality, not directly named in early texts, even the Mahabharata that widely alludes to Shiva and even Durga, is contended sometimes as a mere art-perception and sometimes as the product of queer imagination seeking to reconcile the ever conflicting male and female elements into one Divine form. However, whatever the subsequent contentions, it is essentially the Rig-Vedic doctrine of the unity of male and female elements : ‘what you describe … as male are in reality also the female’, that is in the root of the Ardhanarishvara image. The Rig-Veda perceives cosmos to have been initially the single egg but split into two – the 'Prana' and 'Bhuta', that is, self, and matter. This single egg of the Riga-Veda is Ardhanarishvara. Modern psychological studies world-over also disown the line that divide male and female.
This brass image, an absolutely balanced anatomy, the two aspects discernible only on minute observation, the figure’s right has been conceived as different from its left. As is the usual perception of the Ardhanarishvara image, the right half that the male anatomy defines is the form of Shiva, while the other half consisting of feminine aspects, that of Parvati, his consort. More prominently cast among the two sets of attributes are the two arms on the right – two of Shiva’s usual four, as against one on the left, that is, one of the Parvati’s normal two; modeling of two breasts, that on the left conceived on feminine lines being quite elevated, while the other, subdued; the left hip that represented Parvati being voluminous, heavy and sensuously moved, while that on the right, having a normal anatomy; and, quite elaborately conceived, beautifully laced and brocaded ‘antariya’ – lower wear, on the left – revealing the elegance of the divine female, and the simple loincloth, designed like tiger-skin, obviously Shiva’s, on the right.
The two sets of attributes in the statue begin distinguishing right from the top, the right side ‘jata-juta’ – knotted hair, defining the hair-style of Shiva, is vertically elongated while that on the right is rounded as a woman’s well-dressed hair; the right eye, designed to reveal meditative demeanour, the left revealing amour; the forehead mark on the right is a half ‘tri-punda’, that on the left, the auspicious ‘tilaka’; a snake-kundala adorns the right ear, the left ear has a floral ornament; the style of ornament on the shoulders, waist and feet on the right being different from the left. One of the two hands on the right is carrying an elephant goad and the other is in the posture of supporting it on his bull Nandi, one of Shiva’s most usual poise known as Vrasha-vahana Shiva, while that on the left is in commemorative posture. Though quite subdued, the adornment of coiffure on the right side consists of serpent forms, that on the left, with variously conceived motifs.
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.