112.0 x 46.0 x 29.0 cm
The Hindu god Shiva, one of the triumvirate of the Hindi pantheon, appears in several forms. Sometimes he is seen with his mount Nandi, the bull; sometimes with his consort Parvati; and sometimes in his abstracted form of the linga. An important and challenging representation of Shiva is when he appears in the form of Ardhanarishvara, a Sanskrit term meaning 'the lord ('isvara') who is half ('ardha') a woman ('nari')'. There are several explanations of this unique form. According to one, there was an occasion when Shiva, out of gratitude, embraced Parvati so closely that their bodies fused into one. According to another, he absorbed her into himself to prevent her undertaking a vow of asceticism and leaving him. In all cases it is Parvati who is absorbed into Shiva, and become half of 'his' body. The idea of androgyny is buried deep within many cultures, but rarely achieves such clear sculptural enunciation.
The Ardhanarishvara was an important image in Shaiva temples, with its own niche on the external wall. Typically the back was left unfinished since the sculpture fitted into a niche. This sculpture has been carved from the granulite typical of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, home to where great dancing was created. Although the stone was hard to work, the sculptors skilfully articulated a suave elegance while treating details of expression, jewellery and clothing with subtlety and sensitivity. On this sensuous figure, gender differences in terms of the male and female contours of the body are dominant while details such as earrings, and clothing (the male side almost bare, the female side more decorously draped in a longer, diaphanous garment) are more subtle indicators of difference. It is common in Tamil representations of this subject for Shiva to have two arms, and Parvati one. Shiva's pose of leaning against Nandi, one arm resting on the bull's head, is one in which he appears also in his all-male aspect when he is known as Vrishavahana ('One whose mount is the bull'). In this rendition, the bull is depicted with a naïvety that accentuates the innocence of the youthful god (dess).
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, August 2004.
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales Annual Report 2005, Sydney, 2005, 25 (colour illus.).
John Guy, Goddess: Divine Energy, 'The divine androgyne: Shiva, Parvati and sexual syncretism in Indian art', pg. 69-75, Sydney, 2006, 68 (colour illus.), 72 (colour illus.). cat.no. 39. The colour illus. on page 68 is a detail of this work.
Jackie Menzies, Look, 'New from India', pg. 19, Newtown, Apr 2005, 19 (colour illus.).
Goddess: Divine Energy, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 13 Oct 2006–28 Jan 2007