Relief sculpture of Varaha with Bhu and Gadadevi

From Orissa, eastern India, 13th century AD

God saves the Earth from the Sea

As a saviour deity, Vishnu appears in various incarnations (avatara) to save the earth from disaster. Varaha is the third of Vishnu's ten incarnations and is well-known for a myth concerned with creation. When the whole world was flooded, the earth was trapped underwater by a sea-demon. Vishnu, in the form of a boar, dived down into the ocean and rescued the earth.

Varaha is depicted here as a man with a boar's head lifting up the earth, which is depicted as the goddess Bhu. Varaha holds two of Vishnu's attributes, the conch and the discus (chakra). Unusually, his other weapon is not shown as a club but personified as a small goddess, Gadadevi. at the base of this relief. At the base of the relief a female snake-goddess or nagini appears swimming in the sea, with her hands in the attitude of devotion. In later paintings, Bhu appears as a stretch of landscape or the whole globe lifted up by Varaha.

Vishnu temples in Orissa had three images in the outer niches of the main shrine: Varaha appeared on the south side, the man-lion Narasimha on the west, and Trivikrama on the north.

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More information

Bibliography

T. R. Blurton, Hindu art (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

Dimensions

Height: 83.820 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1872.7-1.44

RRI827

Bridge Collection

Location

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