Corresponding to Krishna’s cult of transforming as Radha, the artist of this Shiva bust, experimenting with his image, might have blended into his form the feminineness of Parvati and innovated a new class of Shiva’s imagery, a form that combined a little of ‘nari’ – woman, though not her ‘ardha’ – half form, as do his classified and authorized ‘Ardha-narishvara’ – half-male-half-female images. Not that he has infused a kind of feminine and coyly touch merely on the face of the Shiva’s image for beauty and for enhancing aesthetic appeal but has also assimilated with it some of the elements of established Ardha-narishvara iconography, as if initiating a new vocabulary of the form. The eye on the left : the Parvati’s side in Ardha-narishvara images, is more elongated, straight-looking and reveals amorous attachment; that on the right : the Shiva’s side, is thickly conceived and is in meditative posture. The differently conceived left ear, frontally inclined, wears a ‘karna-phool’ – ear-ornament designed as a flower; the backwards-inclining right ear wears a ‘makara-kundala’ – ear-ornament styled like a crocodile, a traditionally male ornament. The figure does not reveal such blend in the rest of its anatomy or iconography.
Carved with utmost care, great perfection, sensitive hands and with reverence for its tradition this image in characteristic South Indian idiom of wood-carving, an art matured in that part of the land over centuries, represents Lord Shiva, discovering not the details of the body or wear but the emotional quality and the divine aura with which it abounds. Not in any particular aspect, it is in its totality that imparts to this wood-piece its timeless quality and rare aesthetic merit. A bust-statue, the image is not expected to include all aspects of Shiva’s image, at least the anatomy and attributes; however, the accomplishment of the image is amazing. In strict South Indian tradition this bust of Lord Shiva has been conceived with a towering crown, Vaishnava in character; however, the artist did not miss styling it on the line of ‘jata-juta’ – matted hair braided in lumps, the most characteristic feature of Shiva’s iconography. It has cresting its apex a feminine head, obviously the symbolic form of river goddess Ganga that Shiva bears on his head. There is left-inclining in the upper zone of the crown the crescent, another component of Shiva’s iconography. He has on the forehead the ‘tri-punda’ – an auspicious mark with three horizontal lines, and ‘tri-netra’ – third eye, the other significant features of his icons. The figure’s aesthetic modeling is superb. With a sharp pointed nose, cute small lips, a round face with slanting conical chin, well defined neck with beautiful folds and broad shoulders the wood-piece reveals rare image-quality.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.