Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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Figure of Shiva and Parvati


    • First floor | Room 32 | India from 600

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  • Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum by J. C. Harle and Andrew Topsfield

    Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum

    In Indian art, music and literature the Great Tradition or classical mainstream (mārg) espoused by noble, wealthy or urban patrons was accompanied by a vigorous Little Tradition of folk or vernacular (deśī) production, and a fertile interaction constantly occurred between the two. In the visual arts, surviving examples of folk sculptures and paintings are normally of a late date, though they clearly embody traditions that are centuries and even millennia old. This small household image was possibly made in Central India for tribals of the aboriginal Gond people, among whom Śiva (Mahādeo) is worshipped along with numerous local gods and spirits, being invoked especially by those wishing to have children. The divine couple Śiva and Pārvatī are rendered not with the graceful, sinuous volumes of classical sculpture, but with a powerful simplicity, recalling the primitive forms of autochthonous tribal deities.

    The almost identical, goggle-eyed figures of Śiva and Pārvatī stand, with Śiva’s trident between them, at one side of an altar platform, rimmed by a twisted cable and set on a conical island, with a liṅga and a yoni at its centre. The main features of the shrine are defined by the spiraling forms of twisted and coiled wire, including the large, awesome faces and tall crowns of the two gods, whose trunks are simple posts carrying these convolutions. “The sanctuary is compacted of memories of several techniques of an incipient metal age, of twisting grasses and reeds, of shaping ball and clay. While the small liṅga is the centre of the sanctuary, the gods loom large in this concretion and adaptation of tribal memories to the worship of the liṅga and Śiva and Pārvatī” (Kramrisch).

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