Broadly, the brass-cast has been modeled as Shiva-linga. In upwards rise it tapers a little more sharply than the form of phallus allows, perhaps in order to accommodate other forms and for enhancing their symbolic thrust. In Shaivite iconography aniconic Shiva-linga is his most prevalent image. Anthropomorphically conceived forms of linga having one, three and five faces are also prevalent in the Shaivite worship tradition; however, a linga with ten faces, as here in this brass-piece, is a rarity in both, the ritual as well as the scriptural traditions. Though created on a common base ringing around the statue’s mid-height, each face seems to have its independent neck and even breast-part; and this magic the artist has manipulated by most cleverly using neck and breast ornaments. He has conceived each neck’s set of ornaments independent of the other with the result that each segment serves as stopper allowing the viewing eye to travel ahead only after it has surveyed also this segment’s other related parts, the neck and breast in particular. Uniformly designed jewellery would have looked merely like a decorative frieze around the statue’s neck.
The face-type and iconographic features are almost identical but each face has a different style of coiffure and crown. At the top all ten coiffures merge into a two-tiered common apex comprising an inverted lotus below, and an upwards, above. With his ten faces Shiva presides over all ten directions, as also over the ten known and unknown cosmic regions. In Shaivite tradition, Shiva-linga has been equated with ‘Jyoti’ – the potential flame, and as such, usually with five faces – his manifestation as Sadashiva. Shiva’s five faces represent ‘pancha-bhutas’ – five cosmic elements, the constituents of the cosmos. The other tradition perceives Shiva’s five faces as his manifestations as Tatpurusha, Vamadeva, Aghora, Sadyojata and Ishan. Though these manifestations also represent the same cosmic elements, namely, wind, water, fire, creative function and space, they are essentially Shiva’s forms, that is, under one school of thought Shiva’s five faces represented five cosmic elements, while under the other, his five manifestations. It seems that, instead of interpreting Shiva’s five faces in two different ways, the artist has conceived his image with ten faces, five to represent cosmic elements, while the other, his five manifestations.
The statue as much characteristically represents a temple’s form, its ‘shikhara’ alone, as also the entire temple form, both being conceived identically with five parts in temple’s architectural tradition, at least as practised under Nagar temple style. A temple stands on a plinth. It has then a ‘jangha’ – a middle part in ascending order, and then the niches which enshrine deity forms. Beyond this point the temple has the ‘shikhara’, and finally, its apex – ‘amalaka’ and ‘kalasha’. The shikhara’s neck – ‘griva’ is its base. It has then ‘devapatti’, the frieze with deity forms, main or subsidiary. The ‘shikhara’ gains its height in the form of ‘rathas’ – compartments, which might be in any number from one to nine. ‘Rathas’ from all four sides merge into an ‘amalaka’ which a ‘kalasha’ tops.
The statue incorporates both sets of forms. In some of the most artistically conceived and created temples in India, north or south, the temple’s plinth – bhara-patti, weight-affording frieze, has been conceived, as in this statue, as elephants ringing around the whole structure in a row. A series of ten elephants define in this statue both, the temple’s plinth and the shikhara’s neck. Nine of the elephants move in the ring while the tenth stands front-facing, defining the temple’s main entrance. Other components, those of the temple or the shikhara, ‘jangha’, ‘devapatti’, ‘rathas’, ‘amalaka’ and ‘kalasha’ manifest equally well in the statue.
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.