Stone statue of Shiva as Lingodbhava

Chola dynasty, around AD 900
From Tamil Nadu, India

Shiva appears from a column of fire and declares his supremacy over Brahma and Vishnu

This stone statue is of the powerful Hindu god Shiva, in his manifestation as Lingodbhava. It comes from the exterior decoration of a south Indian temple, probably in the region of the Kaveri delta in central Tamil Nadu.

The iconography is explained by a narrative of competition for status among the gods. Brahma and Vishnu were arguing over who was the most powerful, when a huge shaft of fire appeared between them, that appeared to have no top or bottom. They went to investigate. Vishnu in his boar incarnation dug down into the earth, seen at the base of the sculpture. Meanwhile, Brahma flew into the sky on his vehicle, the Hamsa bird, seen at the top. When neither could find either top or bottom they realized that the column of fire was more powerful than either of them. Its identity was revealed to them when Shiva appeared out of the shaft, and they bowed down to Shiva as the most powerful deity.

Shiva stands in an oval of flames wearing a tall crown and holding his distinctive attributes, the deer and axe. This image combines the aniconic form of Shiva as a linga with the human image of the god with multiple arms, such as Nataraja or Dakshinamurti. Images of Lingodbhava are popular in Tamil Nadu and Shaiva temples normally have an image of this deity on the exterior of the rear or west wall of the main sanctum.

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More information


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


Height: 138.000 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1955.10-18.1


Gift of P.T. Brooke Sewell


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