Uma-Maheshvara

DATE:
c. 8th century CE
MATERIAL AND TECHNIQUE:
Grayish green stone
CLASSIFICATION:
Sculpture
DIMENSIONS:
Overall: 56 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 9 in. (143.51 x 69.85 x 22.86 cm) Overall (base dims): 6 × 28 1/4 × 14 1/2 in. (15.24 × 71.76 × 36.83 cm)
DEPARTMENT:
Arts of Asia
LOCATION:
306 HINDU GALLERY
CREDIT LINE:
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation in honor of Colonel and Mrs. Alvin M. Owsley
COPYRIGHT:
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art
OBJECT NUMBER:
1991.107

General Description

This relief, probably intended for a temple niche, depicts the Hindu god and goddess Shiva and Parvati, together called Uma-Maheshvara. Uma is one of the many names for Shiva's wife, while Maheshvara refers to the god Shiva as Great Lord. Though the identity of the small figures at their feet is unclear, two of them likely represent their offspring, Ganesha and Karttikeya. It combines complex ideas about Shiva, who is a great yogic ascetic, and who is also a devoted husband, embracing Parvati lovingly in his role as a deity of fertility and passion, a theme emphasized by the children at the couple's feet.

Shiva is a deity of seeming contradictions. He is an ascetic, underscored by his abode on Mount Kailasa, his matted locks of hair, and the many ascetic practices to which he subjected himself. But he is also a sensual deity as suggested by his frequent lovemaking with his wife, Parvati, and also with innumerable others. In this sculpture, the four-armed Shiva and two-armed Parvati stand together, his left arm resting on her shoulder, while her right hand strokes his erect phallus. Shiva holds a trident, his weapon, in his upper left hand, while she holds a mirror, a symbol of feminine vanity in her left hand.

This sculpture, dating to about the 8th century, shows clear vestiges of the fluidity and gentle modeling that is usually associated with sculpture dating to the Gupta period, the 4th - 6th centuries. Thus the style is often described as post-Gupta, although the practice of associating styles with ruling dynasties is misleading. It implies dynastic patronage, when often that was not the case. Regarding the style of this sculpture, the term refers to the past dynasty, not the one that was ruling at the time it was made. This work probably comes from Rajasthan.

Adapted from

Frederick Asher, "Uma-Maheshvara," in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 54.