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Vishnu, 13th century


Credit: Gift of Ben Heller

The Cholas originated a tradition of large-scale, cast-metal Hindu sculpture in the round. These sculptures were carried in ritual processions through the temple and adjoining precincts––the lugs and holes on the base were used for the insertion of poles to support the image. As icons of worship, Hindu sculptures were believed to be concrete forms in which the Hindu gods temporarily resided. Because of their religious function, every feature of these sacred images was carefully regulated. Specific attributes, hand gestures (mudras), and postures (asanas) were assigned to each deity; they revealed his various powers and helped a devotee to identify him.

In the Hindu pantheon Vishnu is the Preserver, a benevolent god who keeps the world safe from natural calamities and protects the righteous. He is a martial deity who, in his role as preserver of the universe, conquers various personifications of evil. His attributes are mainly weapons or objects related to battle. In this image, Vishnu stands rigidly in a frontal pose called samabhanga, the traditional posture for the god. He is magnificently attired in a richly draped and elaborately fastened skirt (dhoti), ornate jewelry, and a tall regal crown. His multiple arms symbolize his manifold powers. The lower right hand makes the gesture of reassurance (abhayamudra), the lower left the boon-giving gesture (ahuyavaramudra). The other two arms hold his attributes––in the upper right a wheel-shaped discus thrown in war to cut down the enemy, and in the upper left a conch shell battle trumpet used to strike terror into the heart of the enemy.



(sale, Sotheby’s, London, 14 July 1970, no. 25);

purchased by A. R. Allis.

(Ben Heller, Inc., New York);

acquired by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1970, gift of Ben Heller.