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Stele Showing Shiva Bhairava

Stele Showing Shiva
Stele Showing Shiva Bhairava
North Central India, perhaps Rajasthan
ca. 11th-12th century
Sandstone
(86.21)

Purchased with funds generated from gifts of: Dr. and Mrs. Renato Almansi, Mr. and Mrs. Judson Biehle in memory of Dean Martha Biehle, Mrs. Josefa Carlebach, Dr. Samuel Eilenberg, Dr. and Mrs. Martin J. Gerson, Mr. Robert Landers, Dr. Richard Nalin, Mr. and Mrs. Irwin A. Vladimir

Bhairava is the terrifying aspect of the Hindu god Shiva. He is the ultimate in divine destruction. This monumental image manifests Shiva's power over the material world. Here, his eyes bulge with anger; his staff is topped by a grimacing human skull; snakes curl around his ears; and his hair, with the matted locks of an ascetic, is adorned with severed human hands and another skull.

In many of his aspects, Shiva is represented in art as a wandering hermit; as a doting family man; as creative power embedded in the phallus; as the cosmic dancer who sets the calendric, climactic and metabolic rhythms of the world; and as a ferocious destroyer. Ultimately, Shiva is the cosmos and its energy. The destructive power of Shiva, represented as Bhairava, illustrates the Hindu belief that creation and destruction go hand in hand. Ultimately, we are to understand that the manifest world is nothing but illusion. Shiva Bhairava is the destructive force that liberates us from entanglement in illusion and in so doing brings transcendent peace.

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