Attendant of Vishnu with discus

c. 11th century
Overall: 27 1/2 x 12 x 9 in. (69.85 x 30.48 x 22.86 cm)
Arts of Asia
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Junior Associates
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

The exterior walls of north Indian temples dating to the 9th through 12th centuries are replete with sculptural images projecting from the surface and presenting the worshipper with a sense of a mountain populated by the gods and their attendants. This contrasts with south Indian temples of about the same period in which the images of deities are generally confined to parallel niches running around the temple's perimeter. In north India, as the worshipper circumambulated the temple in the customary clockwise direction, her or his gaze would be directed to these figures, part of the preparation for entering the temple, usually through a series of porches and finally ending at the doorway to the sanctum. Reaching this destination, the worshipper would behold the enshrined deity, represented by the temple's largest sculpture, usually one more static in appearance than the figures of the temple's exterior walls.

This figure, which seems closely related to the sculptures adorning the temples of Khajuraho in central India, is probably one of a pair of images attending a somewhat larger figure of the Hindu god Vishnu. The wheel he holds indicates the association with Vishnu, whose attributes, often described as his weapons, are the wheel (chakra), mace (gada), lotus flower (padma), and conch shell (shankha), one usually held in each of Vishnu's four hands. The chakra, or Wheel of the Law, symbolizes the cycle of earthly life and death and implies ultimate release from the wheel. A female figure holding the mace very likely would have flanked Vishnu's other side on the temple wall, for personifications of Vishnu's wheel and mace are often paired. The luxuriant jewelry the figure wears identifies him with gods and heavenly figures.

The 11th-century date of this sculpture is suggested by its similarity to works adorning several dated temples, for example the Vishvanatha temple at Khajuraho dated to 1002 and constructed by King Dhanga of the Chandella dynasty, which ruled a large part of north central India from the 9th though 12th centuries. The exaggerated thrust of the figure's hip, the abundant, precisely delineated jewelry, and the facial features that include long arching eyebrows all suggest this date.

Adapted from

  • Frederick Asher, "Attendant of Vishnu with discus," 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), 61.

  • Anne Bromberg, DMA unpublished material, 1999.