Pala Schist Relief of Vishnu

SKU: HQ.0058

Origin: Northeast India
Circa: 12th Century AD
Dimensions: 21.75" Height (55.25 cm)
Medium: Schist

A classic representation of the god standing on a blooming lotus. With his four hands he holds the club (gada), the disk (cakra), the conch (sanka), and makes the gesture of giving (varada mudrâ). He is flanked by two female deities, one holding a fly whisk, the other a musical instrument. The lower register is occupied by the representations of the probable donors. The back of the composition is treated in the manner of classic throne backsplashes from the Pâla period, with superimposed elephants, vyala, makara, and flying deities. A dedicatory inscription is engraved under the lotus.

China and India Company, Paris, 1994; Private French Collection.

Visible accidents and losses to both the crown and face, the mace head, both lower arms, and lotus pedestal base. Large chip to proper lower right hand side of the stele border. Crisp details maintained throughout with some surface wear to background elements.

In this sculpture, the Hindu goddesses Lakshmi and Sarasvati flank the deity Vishnu, Preserver of the Universe. Along with Brahma and Shiva, he is seen as one of the three aspects of the embodiment of ultimate reality, but is also worshipped alone as the ultimate deity by some believers. When viewed as the Preserver, he operates alongside Shiva, who destroys the universe, and Brahma, who creates it. Here, Vishnu is presented in a full-frontal pose wearing the traditional adornments of a king. In his four hands, he holds his traditional primary attributes, a jewel, a conch, a flaming wheel, and a mace. The conch is a symbol of creation, the wheel symbolizes the cosmic law, and the mace symbolizes the power of the law. The jewel is a symbol of the fulfillment of the law, and this hand is extended in the wish-fulfilling gesture. Lakshmi holds a fly whisk while in her left hand, now lost, she probably held a lotus flower. Sarasvati plays a lute. This stele is Bengali in style, and would have originally been an independent element forming part of the architectural structure of a temple in eastern India. It would either have been set in a niche, or used as the main image of veneration. The iconographic features of the statue are standard for representations of Vishnu in the guise of Trivikrama, one of his twenty-four forms. The dwarf Vamana won back the universe from King Bali by transforming into Trivikrama and crossing the universe in three giant steps.

See the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, S1992.59.



Pala Schist Relief of Vishnu


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