Shiva and Parvati sculpture

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This statue of the divine Hindu couple, the great god Shiva and his wife Parvati, would have probably been placed above a door to a temple. Hindu worshippers used sculptures to develop a close relationship with the gods depicted. Gods would only inhabit a perfectly made statue and sculptors had to ritually purify themselves before they commenced carving. Such statues were primarily for beginners. Experienced worshippers were expected to commune with the gods through prayer and meditation without images.

What do Shiva and Parvati symbolise?

This statue comes from Orissa on the East coast of India. The arrival of Islam in North India in the 1200s caused the centre of Hinduism to shift to south and central India. Orissa was associated with the god Shiva and tantric Hinduism focussed on esoteric teaching and hidden rituals. Shiva represents contrasting values ?both lust and purity, peace and destruction. When depicted together with his wife, Parvati, he represents the union of male and female and marital fidelity.

In myth Parvati was daughter of the mountain, child of Himavan, lord of the mountains and personification of the Himalayas

The same person in different forms

I can tell one little story. Shiva and Parvati were sitting on mount Kailash where Shiva lives and he was giving a class – a lecture – to a number of sages who had come to take his darshan. And Parvati was sitting on his lap.

Now these sages were all ascetics – all celibate – and Shiva himself was sitting there, a very detached person, with his wife sitting on his lap – a very attractive wife. And this maharaja Chitraketu was passing by and he saw this scene and he thought it was very funny that all these ascetics and Shiva were sitting together having a class on spiritual life and detachment with this beautiful woman sitting on his lap with his arm around her. And he laughed. And no one took it seriously except Parvati. And Parvati thought this was offensive to her husband so she cursed Chitraketu that he would have to take life as a demon.

So there’s this little kind of vignette of the character of Shiva and Parvati. Shiva very detached, never takes offence, and Parvati takes all his offences on his behalf it seems.

Shiva-Parvati, Lakshmi-Narayan are in one sense the same person manifest in two different forms. So God is male and female. And the thinking behind that is that God cannot be something less than we are. So God cannot be not-female, because there are females here, so God has to have a female aspect.

Shaunaka Das, Hindu cleric and director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

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  • 1. At 10:24 on 7 July 2010, khazo wrote:

    What's she holding in her left hand, and where's his other left arm?
    I don't think I've ever seen a sculpture so full of happiness and joy.

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  • 2. At 15:53 on 7 July 2010, khazo wrote:

    Oops - I've just seen his other left hand: under her breast.

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  • 3. At 01:47 on 8 July 2010, Miles Hodgkiss wrote:

    Kadali is reknowned in Indian myth as the land of women. A women only land and the site where Siva chose to teach Hatha Yoga (Sun/Moon yoga) to Parvati. It is also the name for banana in north India. The banana is a fruit that has lost the abilty to seed naturally, so long has it been in cultivation. Is it possible the Siva, in your piece, is holding a babana shoot in his hand ready for planting and not a lotus as we might oherwise have supposed and that he is discoursing on the subject of Hatha Yoga to Parvati in Kadali?
    Much more interesting. Where was kadali? Ask the Assyrians and the Ancient Egyptian they loved a banana or two. Ask The Buddha or his contemporary the 24th Tithankara Mahavira they loved one too. Ask Ashoka he probably made a bee line for one. I think I know. Do you?
    Oh well, perhaps this women?s land isn?t the Amazonia of ancient Greek myth but at least King Croesus, of your gold coin, would still have recognised the iconography on this piece even though their craftsmen are separated from each other by a thoudsand years or more. Still money has made a big difference by the time of this piece hasn?t it. Such a happy lion lying down with such a contended bull. Croesus has made his point. Do I also see a shepards crook and a styalised Ram (at Top)? I wonder what they stand for?? ? All really is well in the garden of this eden.

    Of course Gorakhnath founder of Hatha Yoga is only circa 9th century but like The Buddha and Mahavira before him he came from the borders of Nepal and his discovery was met with such approval that his Hatha yoga somehow mysteriously and mythologicaly makes the magical leap of time and faith and henceforth in the way of myths officially comes into being at the start of time itself with Siva no less credited with its revellation. I suppose symbolically representing this leap back in time Gorakhnath?s followers the Gorakhnathis also began wearing the huge earrings worn in split ears redolent of The Buddha or Marhavira, or at least of their statues. Interestingly the same has happened to the ears of the sculptured imagery which we can see here in this statue of yours.
    So can someone now explain to me the banana?s part and the mysterious Kadali (land of women) part in the improvised 9-12th century mythological story of Hatha yoga?? Please.

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  • 4. At 10:25 on 8 July 2010, JWPA wrote:

    I leave home listening to a trailer for AHWHO. I get to work, and listen to AHWHO. I get home, and lo! AHWHO ! After Newsnight etc, I enjoy my late bath, whilst listening to...AHWHO ! With it's cheesy 70's 'sun rising over horizon graphic' theme, and MacGregor's regular exotic travel ( the object's in his workplace !!! ), it is, I'm afraid to say, getting tediously repetitive.

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  • 5. At 16:10 on 11 July 2010, injamaven wrote:

    2nd photo : taken at Chaunsat Yogini [64 Sorceresses] temple, Hirapur, Orissa, near Bhubaneshwar. A powerful Tantric temple, Bhauma Dynasty, 9-11 century CE [authorities differ]. The pujari is looking at MahaMata/MahaMaya, the main murti of the 64.

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  • 6. At 22:02 on 13 July 2010, hirundine608 wrote:

    That would Mr. Wood would be pleased, with his effort?

    I wonder who the sculptors were? They certainly achieved a joyful, benevolent all encompassing piece of art. The sacred ox at their feet ........ beautiful!

    A utopia achieved through adherence to principle, through love spiritual and temporal.

    Thanks for sharing this!

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  • 7. At 13:38 on 4 September 2010, Scott I wrote:

    I wonder what the shell represents in the very bottom right-hand corner of the object. It rests upon a platform or stool.

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  • 8. At 13:43 on 4 September 2010, Scott I wrote:

    I believe I found the explanation of the shell. I found references on the Internet to the conch shell being a symbol of Varuna.

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Orissa, India


13th century AD


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