Spotlight on the Collection

March 2013: Shiva and Parvati

Shiva and Parvati (Uma-Mahesvara). India, Halebid region, Karnataka, 12th-13th centuries. Chloritic schist. Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1990 Museum Dinner and Ball, 1990.109.

Shiva and Parvati (Uma-Mahesvara). India, Halebid region, Karnataka, 12th-13th centuries. Chloritic schist. Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1990 Museum Dinner and Ball, 1990.109.

Shiva and Parvati (Uma-Mahesvara), Indian, about 1150

Shiva and Parvati (Uma-Mahesvara) once adorned a temple in Halebid, India. This sculpture depicts the Hindu gods Shiva, his wife Parvati, and their two sons: the elephant-headed god Ganesha on their right, and the peacock god Karttikeya on their left. The Sanskrit term Uma-Mahesvara refers to images of this divine couple.

Shiva and Parvati likely graced the outside wall of a temple dedicated to Shiva. The god’s knee is particularly shiny, most likely as a result of the temple’s visitors rubbing it in passing for good luck.

Sculpture has decorated houses of worship for thousands of years, from the façades of ancient Greek temples, interiors of Renaissance cathedrals, to modern-day mega-churches. Much like the faithful in the Western world, Hindus portray their gods, goddesses, and other important religious figures in sculpture.

Halebid (Halebidu), a city in the Karnataka region of southern India, served as the Hoysala Empire’s capital from about the 10th to the 14th centuries. This empire supported the construction of temples and the arts.

One of Shiva and Parvati’s most striking features is the contrast between the smooth bodies and the ornate carvings that surround them. Hoysala artists are known for their deep, precise, and intricate carving, unique to this period of Indian art history. The combination of the carvings, dark stone, and natural light created dramatic and intense shadows around the sculpture.

 —Leta Woller, education – visitor engagement intern 2012-2013

Join the Conversation!

How artists depict religious figures varies from religion to religion. Some might show a deity as powerful or wrathful, while another artist might depict the same figure as peaceful or contemplative. What words do you use to describe a higher power that you cannot see? How would you choose  to illustrate that figure?

Take a look at these works at the BMA and beyond, and join the conversation!

The Ascetic Sakyamuni, China, Yuan dynasty, about 1300

Madonna and Christ Child with a Bishop Saint, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Michael and an Unidentified Saint, Goodhart-Ducciesque Master, about 1310/1320

Urn Representing Cosijo, the God of Rain, Zapotec culture, Mexico, about 450 AD

“Fighting over God’s Image,” New York Times, September 27, 2012

 “True Colors,” Smithsonian magazine, July 2008

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