Sculpted panel depicting Vishnu Trivikrama

Eastern India, 10th century AD

Three divine steps and the universe is conquered

The demon-king Bali became so powerful that he threatened cosmic order and the gods themselves. At the god's behest, Vishnu appeared on earth in his fifth incarnation as the dwarf Vamana. As a brahmin student holding the traditional waterpot and parasol, Vamana petitioned the king for a gift of land. Vamana asked only for what he could encompass in three steps, to which the king, famed for his generosity, readily agreed. Vamana instantly assumed cosmic proportions, and in three strides over the earth, atmosphere and heaven, reclaimed the universe from Bali. For this reason he is known as Vishnu 'of the three steps' (trivikrama).

In this sculpted panel the god's left foot reaches up to heaven where it is worshipped by a small figure of Brahma. In a panel at the lower right Vishnu is shown in his incarnation as Vamana holding a parasol, approaching Bali, the fourth figure from the left.

The myth of Vishnu Trivikrama appears in the earliest of Indian texts, the Rig Veda. In later Hindu literature there are many other myths describing how cosmic order was threatened by powerful demons. The goddess Durga similarly defeated the buffalo-demon Mahisha when the power of the gods was threatened.

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More information

Bibliography

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

Dimensions

Museum number

Asia OA 1872.7-1.74

RRI857

Bridge Collection

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