Shiva as Mrityunjaya, the Conquerer of Death

Period: Pala period

Date: 12th century

Culture: Bangladesh or India (Bengal)

Medium: Black stone

Dimensions: H. 38 in. (96.5 cm); W. 20 in. (50.8 cm); D. 7 1/2 in. (19.1 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Gift of Florence and Herbert Irving, in memory of Alice Boney, 1991

Accession Number: 1991.421


The third eye in the center of his forehead, and the small figure of the bull Nandin crouching on the base, identify the central image as Shiva. He has six arms: the two front hands are held in a gesture of meditation; the remaining three of the back four hold recitation beads (lower right), a club (?), and a water pot (lower left). Shiva is seated on an elaborate throne on which appear a kinnari and kinnara holding musical instruments. These minor demigod musicians are half-human and half-bird and often appear on Pala-period thrones. The throne is placed against a lush background of flowering scrolls. Shiva, wearing rich, carefully detailed jewelry, is attended by two female figures holding fly whisks. Four flying celestials, two of whom have consorts, cavort on either side of the kirttimukha, or face of glory, at the top of the stela.

Shiva's meditative posture and gesture are unusual and it is not clear which form (of the many taken by this god) is represented here. However, the recitation beads and water pot, which is often used in initiation or purification ceremonies, suggest that this meditative image of Shiva reflects esoteric practices common to both Buddhist and Hindu traditions in Bangladesh during the late Pala period. The ornately carved surface of the stela and its pointed top are also typical of the twelfth century.