Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Standing Balarama or Nagaraja (Serpent King)

Period:
Gupta period
Date:
ca. mid-5th century
Culture:
India (Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh)
Medium:
Red sandstone
Dimensions:
H. 60 in. (152.4 cm); W. 21 in. (53.3 cm); D. 8 in. (20.3 cm)
Classification:
Sculpture
Credit Line:
Gift of Jeffrey B. Soref, in honor of Steve Kossak, 1991
Accession Number:
1991.83.2
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 236
Nagas (serpent deities) are associated with water and agricultural abundance, but at the same time they are venomous and bring floods and destruction. Serpent worship goes back to remote antiquity and numerous representations of nagarajas (serpent kings) are known from as early as the second century B.C. Thus it is not surprising that with the emergence of the Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist religious traditions we see the integration of naga deities. Although the names of many nagarajas are preserved in Indian literature, specific identification is difficult unless the sculpture is inscribed. This statue can be identified as Balarama by the water pot he holds. Balarama is sometimes considered to be an incarnation of Shesha, the cosmic serpent. More often he is the elder brother of Krishna and the eighth incarnation of Vishnu.
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