Sandstone stele with a figure of Vishnu

From central India, 10th century AD

Vishnu is the preserver and maintainer of spiritual, moral and temporal order in the Hindu trinity. His character is almost like a monarch, which explains his tall crown, elaborate jewellery and upright posture. In his hands he holds a chakra (wheel) and gada (mace). His third hand is held in varadamudra (the gesture of giving), and his fourth hand, now broken, would probably have held a conch. Vishnu is also commonly seen holding a lotus, alluded to here by the small floral motif on his open right palm. This stele is typical of the sculptures from niches in tenth-century temple walls in central India.

Most of the figures surrounding the central icon can be identified as Vishnu's ten incarnations (avatara). The first three: Matsya (the fish), Kurma (the tortoise) and Varaha (the boar) feature in the myth of the great deluge and creation; Narasimha (man-lion), Vamana (dwarf), Parashurama (Rama with the battle axe) and Rama (the mythical king and protagonist of the epic Ramayana) all display characteristics of conquest and the vanquishing of evil forces; Rama is further developed to embody righteousness, and is held as a paragon of responsible, virtuous conduct; Krishna is another mythical figure with a widespread following, whose cult is of great antiquity; Buddha is regarded by Hindus as the ninth avatara, and the tenth, Kalki, in the nature of a prophecy, is in the form of a horse and is yet to arrive.

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Height: 1.270 m

Museum number

Asia OA 1872.7-1.41


Bridge Collection


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