Miniature Brahmanical Shrine

India (Himachal Pradesh)

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 237

This solid cast shrine is conceived as a three-dimensional replica of a Hindu temple in the early medieval Kashmiri-tradition. The square plan shrine on indented platform has a slender open pillar at each corner, and a split pyramidal roof with amalaka (traditional fruit shaped) capping feature. On its four elevations are shrine niches, each with a presiding deity. First, a crowned four-armed Vishnu holding a mace and conch, discus and lotus, with a seated bull and deer at his feet. To Vishnu’s left, the niche houses a four-armed Parvati, Shiva’s consort, who holds a holy water vessel in one hand whilst granting boons with the other. Other hands hold a pair of tongs and a lotus. She is flanked by a kneeling bull and deer and accompanied by Shiva’s linga and her son Ganesha. In this form she is best understood as Paravati-Gauri, goddess of the Himalayas, who sought Shiva’s affection through the performance of fire austerities. Next, on the opposite face to Vishnu, appears Surya, the sun god, dressed in a tunic and high (Central Asian) boots, and holding two lotuses in full bloom. He is attended by two females, not the usual personifications of night and day, Dandi and Pingala. On the fourth elevation appears Ganesha in dancing form, displaying in his four arms an axe, trident, scarf, and sweets which he takes with his trunk.

Fours-sided miniature shrines have an early history, and are associated most widely with Vishnu, where they often assume the form of four figures addorsed to a linga-like pillar. In that form they appear as early as the 4th–5th century, in Gupta North India. They became are a favored configuration in Nepal in the Licchavi and early Malla periods, where many Gupta customs and stylistic features were preserved. Four sided miniature shrines are less often seen in the greater Kashmir realm. Stylistic treatment of the deities points to production in one of the valley cultures of Himachal Pradesh, immediately east of the Kashmir valley.

Miniature Brahmanical Shrine, Copper alloy, India (Himachal Pradesh)

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