A contemporary art-piece but reminiscent of the celebrated South Indian Chola bronzes of the ninth-tenth century, this brass-cast represents Ardha-narishvara, Lord Shiva’s half male and half female form, the right comprising factors of male physiognomy, and the other half, the left, those of a woman. The statue, cast in brass, reveals greater lustre than would one cast in gold. It astonishes with its exceptionally beautiful craftsmanship conceiving one part side by side with the diagonally opposite other with perfect accuracy. As has been provided in the tradition of the Ardha-narishvara iconography, the right half, packed with male features, represents Lord Shiva, and the other half, on the left, comprising feminine features, that of Parvati, his consort.
Broadly the art-piece appears to be the product of queer imagination,
a quaint anatomy attempting at conciliating the ever conflicting
elements into one form. An apparent visual fallacy, it has, however, a
deeper meaning and significance with its roots in ancient India’s
religious texts and metaphysics related to cosmology and creation.
This form of Shiva is based on the contention that Lord Shiva is the
first of all beings and the root of all elements. The prevalent
proposition is that he was always there : Sadashiva, and was the ever
first : Adishiva. Obviously, both as Adishiva and Sadashiva he had
inherent in his being both, the male and female aspects as without
both the creation could not be effected. When texts perceived him
announcing : ‘ekohama bahusyami’, he was in the Creator’s role and
assimilated in him the male and the female attributes as without both
from one he could not be many.
This phenomenal manifestation of Shiva also has Rig-Vedic contexts.
The Rid-Veda proclaims : ‘what you describe to me as Male are in
reality also Female. He who has the penetrating eyes of the mind
discerns this truth’. The existence is essentially composed of two
sets of diverse elements, which Shiva as Sadashiva blends in his form
and represents. This Vedic proposition and other texts talking of
Ardha-narishvara form time and again have amazed the modern mind with
such scientific concept. A number of thinkers, Osho, the great
spiritual thinker of the twentieth century being the foremost among
them, hold that Shiva should be worshipped only as Ardha-narishvara as
that alone is his complete image for ever present benevolent Shiva
could not be a part – male or female, but the ‘total’ : the male and
In iconographic perception, sculptural quality, craftsmanship, minute
details, finish and aesthetic visualization this brass-statue is
simply superb. Though a recent work of art, it excels medieval
sculptures of Ardha-narishvara in many things : facial features,
anatomy of the two aspects, portrayal of male and female elements and
those related to Shiva and those related to Parvati and thematic
insight and thrust. The right half has been conceived as half of the
four-armed Shiva. It has two arms, one carrying a goad, and other, a
snake, while the left half has just one arm held in ‘lalita’ rupa.
Right from crown and coiffure down to the foot this part : sensuously
modeled breast, heavy protruding hip, richly clad ‘antariya’, style of
foot and kind of adornment, especially the large flower used for
adorning her hair as against the rays of fire emitting from Shiva’s
coiffure, there reflects in everything Parvati’s feminine aspect.
Shiva’s side of the coiffure has on it snakes, crescent, river goddess
Ganga among others. As compared to Parvati’s leg on the left the right
leg representing Shiva’s is quite heavy and crudely conceived. The
image has been installed on a two-tiered beautifully moulded lotus
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.
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