Stele depicting Parvati with her sons Ganesha and Karttikeya
India, Bihar or West Bengal; or Bangladesh
Pala period, ca. 11th century
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Morse (66.117)
Parvati is the wife of Shiva; her name means “Daughter of the Mountain.” She is shown here, figuratively and literally, born from the stone itself. She is flanked by her two sons, elephant-headed Ganesha on her right and Karttikeya (also known as Skanda) on her left. In her upper left hand she holds a mirror––a symbol associated with Shiva, and a sign of both wisdom and the emptiness of all worldly matters. In her upper right hand she holds a linga––the phallus-like symbol of Shiva. In her lower right she holds a pomegranate––symbol of fertility; her lower left hand makes a gesture of protection over her son. All three figures have a third eye on their foreheads, connoting their relationship with Shiva. At the peak of the stele is the bodiless head of an auspicious being called a kirtimukha. Further down are other ethereal spirits and peacocks. At the bottom, an alligator vehicle or vahana supports the goddess; at the bottom left corner is the kneeling figure of a donor or devotee with hands held in the gesture of adoration.
The stele is carved from black basalt, a stone that was commonly used for sculptures during the Pala and Sena periods in northeastern India and in what is now Bangladesh. The sculpture undoubtedly was once positioned in a niche within a temple and served as a focus of worship.
Parvati, also known as Uma, is the loving wife of Shiva. Some Hindus regard Kali as her fearsome aspect, and still others consider Durga to be the manifestation the goddess assumes to fight evil. In some ways Parvati can be regarded as the embodiment of the divine feminine, “The Great Goddess.” She is the perfection of beauty. The one large sculpture in this case was likely made for display and veneration in a public temple, whereas all the small ones were created for devotional use in household shrines. The art of casting bronze statues and figurines has a long history in India; artists of the medieval Chola period were masters of it, and skilled artisans of today continue to practice the craft.
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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association