16th–17th century
Overall: 61 1/4 x 27 1/2 x 13 3/8 in. (1 m 55.575 cm x 69.85 cm x 33.973 cm)
Arts of Asia
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Alvin and David T. Owsley via the Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation in memory of Colonel Alvin M. Owsley, with the assistance of Bromberg Family Wendover Fund
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

This is a monumental sculpture from southern India, representing a warlike form of the Hindu god Shiva as Virabhadra ("distinguished hero"). In the story associated with this form of Shiva, the god is angered by his father-in-law, Daksha, who performed a great sacrifice and invited all the gods except Shiva. So furious was Shiva's wife Sati at this slight that she threw herself on the sacrificial fire (hence the term sati to refer to the self-immolation of widows). When Shiva learned about Sati's death, he threw one of his hairs on the ground, and from that Virabhadra arose, destroying Daksha's sacrifice and beheading Daksha. Shiva later relented, restoring the patriarch with a ram's head.

This sculpture makes the martial nature of Virabhadra apparent. He is four-armed, holding a bow, arrows, and a sword in three of his hands, with a short dagger in its holster at his waist. Beneath the shield on which his left hand rests is the severed head of Daksha, while to his right is Daksha again, compassionately restored to life with the head of a ram. The god wears a short, diaphanous dhoti, beaded jewelry, and a headdress containing a Shiva-linga (Shiva's phallus). A protective kirtimukha head crowns the sculpture. Such ferocious images may have occurred in pairs, on either side of a temple door, to ward off evil. Further, this warlike panopoly may reflect the warrior character of the Virashaivas, who fought members of opposing religious organizations.

Virabhadra is a very popular deity in South India, especially in Maharashtra and Karnataka. While bronze plaques of the god are common, such a majestic sculpture in stone is unusual. The fierce fangs, weapons, and militant pose of the figure are common in apotropaic (protective) versions of Shiva. Figures of Virabhadra are common during the Vijayanagara Empire (1336-1565), which had its center in the royal city of Hampi. Before this period, a different wrathful aspect of Shiva, Bhairava, was popular in southern India. (See the Mask of Bhairava.)

Adapted from

  • Frederick Asher, "Virabhadra," 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), 107.

  • Anne Bromberg, Label text, David T. Owsley Galleries of South Asian Art - Hindu Art, 2006.

  • Anne Bromberg, DMA unpublished material, 2006.

Fun Facts

  • Virabhadra is associated with Virabhadrasana I, II, and III, the warrior poses practiced in yoga.

Web Resources

  • The British Museum~ Learn more about the story of Shiva's creation of Virabhadra.

  • Dallas Museum of Art
    To find out more about the symbolism of the Shiva-linga, take a look at this sculpture from the Khmer kingdom.