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Asian art

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Vishnu and his avatars

11th century


Unknown Artist


Most Indian sculpture is religious, the expression of the divine in visible form. The Chandella artists who sculpted this majestic sandstone image of Vishnu, one of the most powerful and popular gods in the Hindu pantheon and the preserver of universal order, were supreme workers of stone in medieval India. Vishnu is attended on either side by his avatars or incarnations, including the boar-headed Vahara and the man-lion Narasimha. Lesser attendants and narrative detail fill the rest of the skilfully carved surface, stepped back in four planes. As usual, Vishnu is depicted standing in a full frontal pose, wearing the crown of the warrior aristocracy and with the sacred thread looped across his bare chest. In three of his four arms he holds one of his principal attributes: the mace ('gada'), discus ('chakra') and conch ('sankha'). Sometimes his fourth hand carries a lotus ('padma') but in this example his fourth hand is held in the symbolic gesture ('mudra') of boon-granting ('varada'). His bolt-upright stance identifies him with the axis of the universe, while his vertical emphasis leads the worshipper's eye upwards to the divine.

'Asian Art', AGNSW Collections, 1994, pg. 176.


Other Title

Image of Vishnu with attendants Vahara and Narasimha

Place where the work was made

Khajuraho Madhya Pradesh India


11th century

Media category


Materials used



110.0 x 55.0 x 24.5 cm; 142 kg.

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of the Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust and an anonymous donor in memory of Stewart Giles 1991


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history


Stewart Giles, Feb 1983-Apr 1991, South Australia/Australia, purchased through Aegidea Ancient and Fine Art (art dealership), Adelaide and Brian Moore (art dealership), Sydney by Margaret Olley and donated to the Art Gallery New South Wales, Sydney, Oct 1991.

Referenced in 6 publications


Jackie Menzies, AGNSW Collections, 'Asian Art - India, South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan', pg. 173-228, Sydney, 1994, 176 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies, Arts of Asia, 'New Dimensions', pg. 54-63, Hong Kong, Nov 2003-Dec 2003, 55 (colour illus.). no.2

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'The Realm of the Hindu Gods', Sydney, 2003, 18-19 (colour illus.). The colour illus. on page 19 is a detail of this work.

Public Programmes Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Adventures in Asia. An education kit for the Asian gallery, Sydney, 2003, 2 (colour illus.). card no.2

Haema Sivanesan, Art in Education 1999-2000, 'The body in Hindu art: a sandstone sculpture of Vishnu with attendants at the Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 36-37, 2000, 36, 37 (illus.).

Acanthus, Sydney, Apr 1988, 18 (colour illus.).