India (Jammu and Kashmir, ancient kingdom of Kashmir)
H. 41 1/8 in. (104.5 cm)
Purchase, Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, 1991 (1991.301)
From as early as the sixth century through the tenth, figures with a human head in the center, a boar's head to the right, and a lion's head to the left played an important role in the art and religious beliefs of Kashmir. There is a vertical third eye in the center of the human head, and the figure holds a conch shell in his left hand. The small attendant on the left is Chakrapurusha, the personification of the war discus, originally balanced on his right by Gadadevi, the female personification of Vishnu's battle mace. The upper half of Prithvi, the earth goddess, stands between the figure's legs. The demonic grimacing face, carved in low relief at the back of the halo, suggests this sculpture dates to the late eighth or early ninth century, when such fourth heads were commonly added to these images.
Traditionally, sculptures such as this one have been identified as representations of the Hindu god Vishnu and two of his avatars, or descents, during which he took the forms of a lion and a boar in order to save the cosmos. The discovery of an inscribed sculpture of this type, however, suggests that such figures represent Para VasudevaNarayana, the central generative deity of the Pancharatna sect of Vaishnavism. According to this identification, sculptures such as this example depict Para Vasudeva as he differentiates himself into four manifestations in order to generate the cosmos. The lion's and boar's heads, therefore, represent manifestations of cosmic forces rather than the more familiar descents of Vishnu's iconography.