Southeast Asia's earliest recorded rulers were highly responsive to Hinduism, as exemplified by their embracing of the Brahmanical god Vishnu as an ideal model of divine kingship. Rulers dedicated numerous shrines to Vishnu. In this gallery are a number of large-scale sculptures from such sanctuaries along with other avatars, or "appearances," of Vishnu, including Krishna Govardhana and a unique form of the horse-headed Kalkin. In the mature iconography of the four-armed Vishnu, he holds a discus and a conch shell in his raised right hands and a club and the earth in his lower hands and wears a plain crown. This corpus is distinguished by superbly modeled musculature, a minimalist approach to decoration, and an unprecedented ambitious scale.

Widely worshipped alongside Vishnu was the goddess Durga Mahishasuramardini, an aspect of Shiva's consort, Uma, who, uniquely in Southeast Asia, is closely aligned to Vishnu. Although represented in her benign form, she stands on the severed head of the buffalo-demon Mahisha, a motif readily understood in societies that celebrated buffalo sacrifice as a life-affirming rite. Together, Vishnu and Durga allowed local rulers to identify themselves with the forces of righteous governance that these gods embodied.

Selected Artworks

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