Shiva Mahadev

West Bengal, Calcutta

Not on view

This image of Shiva as Mahadev, the ‘Great God’, is a rarely represented subject. It depicts a disheveled and mournful Shiva wandering aimlessly in a wilderness setting, carrying the limp body of his first wife, Sati, over his shoulder. Her diminutive body is barely detectable at first glance, one limp arm hanging down on Shiva’s chest, the other draped over his trident. Her grey lifeless face is visible over his right shoulder. The tragedy of Sati’s death from shame and Shiva’s grief are evoked with great pathos. The story, in short, tells of Shiva, having failed to duly honor his wife’s father Daksha, is in turn excluded from a great sacrifice that Daksha hosts, inviting all the gods except Shiva. Sati insists on attending without her husband but dies of shame. Shiva is enraged and destroys the sacrificial grounds. He gathers up his wife’s body and begins to dance wildly, threatening to destroy the world in his fury. To avert this calamity, Vishnu, here seen overseeing Shiva from a heavenly realm, uses his discus (cakra) to cut Sati’s body into pieces, scattering them all over the world. The places where her body parts fell are marked to this day by goddess shrines, revered as places made holy by her presence (Shakta-pithas). The artist has elected to depict a poignant but rarely shown moment in the Sati story, that of Shiva wandering in remorse with his dead wife before beginning the dance of destruction.

Shiva Mahadev, Lithograph, printed in black and hand-coloring with watercolor and selectively applied glaze, West Bengal, Calcutta

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