Schist sculpture of a four-faced linga

From eastern India, around AD 800

The four faces of Shiva

The mythology of the Hindu god Shiva is complex and contradictory. He is sometimes depicted as a chaste, wandering ascetic, but at the same time an ideal family man, monogamous, powerful and fertile. In India Shiva is usually worshipped in the form of the linga, an erect phallus. Rather than an image charged with sexuality, the linga is regarded more as a symbol of the god's energy and potential.

This is an example of the chaturmukhi linga type, that is, four-faced. The four faces, each pointing in a cardinal direction, allude to Shiva's most prominent aspects. These comprise Bhairava, a manifestation of Shiva in his terrifying form, two faces which show his different attitudes as a withdrawn and serene ascetic and lastly, Parvati, his consort, the embodiment of feminine power.

The four-faced linga is sometimes regarded as symbolic of the five elements – Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Space, the latter alluded to by the invisible face imagined to be on top of the sculpture and referred to by the vertical axis.

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Height: 37.500 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1880-24



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