Shiva as Mahesha

Period: Chola period (880–1279)

Date: 10th century

Culture: India (Tamil Nadu)

Medium: Granite

Dimensions: H. 58 in. (147.3 cm); W. 32 in. (81.3 cm); D. 16 in. (40.6 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Egleston Fund, 1927

Accession Number: 27.79


This statue is part of a group of unusual large stone carvings in the round from the Chola period. They all portray the same deity, long identified as Brahma but now thought to be Mahesha, a form of Shiva. Shiva's worshipers believe that he manifests himself in three stages, which move from the abstract to the concrete. The first stage is symbolized by the undecorated linga (the phallic emblem of Shiva); the second, by the linga with one or more faces emerging from its shaft. The third and final stage is Mahesha. From him are born the other two great Hindu gods, Brahma and Vishnu. Mahesha is shown with four faces: the one on the right represents Brahma; in the center, Shiva; on the left, Vishnu; and on the back, Rudra (perhaps the predecessor of Shiva). The attributes associated with Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu are on their respective sides.