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5 / Cosmology and Belief

Shiva Vinadhara (Holder of the Lute)
Shiva Vinadhara (Holder of the Lute)
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, India
Date Chola Dynasty, ca. 950
Material Bronze
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 29 in. (73.6 cm.); W: 14 in. (35.8 cm.); D: 9 ¾ in. (24.9 cm.)
Location Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Credit Courtesy of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

expert perspective

Vishakha N. DesaiPresident and CEO, Asia Society

Additional Resources

Blurton, T. Richard. Hindu Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Dehejia, Vidya. Art of the Imperial Cholas. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Dehejia, Vidya, John Guy, and John Eskenazi. Chola: Sacred Bronzes of Southern India. London: Royal Academy of the Arts, 2007.

Michell, George. Hindu Art and Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

“Puja: Expressions of Hindu Devotion.” In Education. Smithsonian Institution, Freer and Sackler Galleries Web site. http://www.asia.si.edu/education/pujaonline/puja/start.htm.

“Shiva Vinadhara.” In Collections. Smithsonian Institution, Freer and Sackler Galleries Web site. http://www.asia.si.edu/collections.

Shiva Vinadhara (Holder of the Lute)

» Unknown artist, India

The roots of Hinduism go back several millennia and the religion, over time, has been influenced by diverse belief systems and practices.

Although the complexities of Hinduism offer numerous points of theological debate, a shared belief in a unifying cosmic force is at its core. This force, which controls all aspects of the universe and existence, is not completely knowable by humans, but elements of it can be made manifest in the form of gods and goddesses.

The large Hindu pantheon consists of primary deities, as well as their various incarnations and diverse aspects of their personalities. Hindu divinities may be represented in art symbolically or anthropomorphically. In the latter case, the gods take the basic shape of human beings, but are ultimately given suprahuman attributes, usually multiple limbs or heads. This sculpture depicts the god Shiva (the Creator and Destroyer) as the master of music. He is identified by symbols in his hair—a crescent moon and a snake, both references to the cyclical nature of time and Shiva’s place outside of it—and by the objects he holds in his four hands. Originally, Shiva held a vina, a lute-like instrument in his two front hands. In the back, he holds an axe and antelope (now missing its head). These items were characteristic symbols of Shiva in South India, where this particular piece was created during the Chola period (850–1287).

Great patrons of culture, the Chola rulers commissioned the building of numerous Hindu temples. In the innermost chamber of each temple an image of the god to whom the structure was dedicated was erected. Such images were permanent, generally fixed in stone. Others, however, were made of cast bronze. This technique, which flourished under the Chola, allowed the creation of numerous portable statues. These bronzes were carried in processions through the streets during festivals and other public ceremonies. While not considered gods themselves, the figures were believed to be capable of embodying divine energy. Through puja, the enactment of certain rituals and prayers, the spirit of the deity was invoked to enter the statue. In this way, the sculpture facilitated darshan, direct visual communication between viewer and deity.

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