Exquisite Sculptures of Vagisuara Siva

A group of stone sculptures with four heads and four arms seated on a lotus pedestal are known to Indologists. All the sculptures come from Tamilnadu, three of them are in Tanjore and the others are now in American Museums. Of the three in Tanjore one is in Tanjore Art Gallery, but said to come from Karandai, a nearby village. Another is in the collector's office Tanjore and the third is in the temple at Kandiyur still under worship. Of the three in America one is in Albright Knox Art Gallery, the second is in Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the third is in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the last having been discussed by Ananda Coomaraswamy in 1942.

All the sculptures are about four feet in height and have been identified by scholars as Brahma. The Albright Gallery sculpture was on display in the exhibition "Maifestation of Siva" organised by Stella Kramrisch at Pennsylvania in 1981. The catalogue of the exhibition describing the image states "nothing but the third eye placed vertically in the middle of the face distinguishes the image from that of Brahma the creator." Though the presence of the third eye and difference in the emblems held in the hands have posed problems, scholars have identified the image as Brahma. Suggestions were made that "these were the main images of a temple or more likely of a secondary temple or shrine devoted to Brahma."

The sculptures do not represent Brahma but an aspect of Siva. They are shown seated on a lotus seat with four heads and four arms, The front right arm holds a lotus and the rear abhaya; the rear left arm holds an akshamala and front left varada. In Brahma sculptures of the same periods and regions the rear carry akshamala and kundika; they do not exhibit the third eye as well. Further they wear the same ear ornaments in both the ears whereas in the sculpture under discussion the right ear wears a patrakundala and in the left simha kundala. Also the anklets are different, the right wearing a silambu and the left an anklet of pearls. Further in the Brahma sculptures the lower garments reach up to the ankle while in the sculpture under discussion they end at the middle of the thigh, as in the case of Siva.

In the daily worship of Siva particularly while performing the fire offering, (agnikarya) the agamas stipulate the worship of the god Vagisvara and Vagisvari; Vagisvara is Mahesvara and Vagisvari is Gauri. They are said to be the parents of fire, Agni.

The Saivite ritual text, Karanagama refers to the same deity as having three eyes, five heads and four arms, jatamakuta, and bearing sula and Kapala, abhaya and varada in the four arms. The five names of Sadasiva are invoked in the ritual agnikunda samskara. The emblems held in the hands are given diffently in various texts. The Karanagama mentions kapala and sula, while the Ajitagama gives pasa and sula. Just as the Chaturmukhalinga represent Sadasiva with five heads so also this figure with four heads is also called Pancavaktra. The group of sculptures, evidently represent Vagisvara Siva and not Brahma, both their manifestations and functions being different.

All the sculptures so far known belong to the period from 850 to 950 CE. Particularly the sculpture in the Tanjore art gallery seems to belong to the last phase of the Pallava art and the rest to the early part of the 10th cent. A.D. It suggests a cult orientation which needs a separate studycademy.com

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BY Dr.R.NAGASWAMY

www.tamilartsacademy.com

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