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


This is an extremely rare representation of Shiva as Mrityunjaya, the destroyer of death and disease. He is shown deep in meditation in yogic form, as indicated by his interlocked legs and resting hands. The Uttarakamika, a ritual and iconographic text (agama), dictates that he should be represented in a tranquil state with three eyes, six arms, and matted dreadlocks (jatamukuta) adorned with the crescent moon. He displays a rosary and a water vessel, and his two missing hands would have held his trident (trisula) and a skull bowl (kapala), completing the ritually required iconography. A chain garland hangs below his legs (the text speaks of a garland of skulls). He is flanked by female attendants bearing fly-whisks and the hybrid bird-humans kinnara and kinnari, who provide music about his head. Celestial garland bearers hover above. His throne is a lotus pedestal with a makara-finial throne back. His devotee the bull kneels at lower left; the donor figure, at lower right.