Sandstone stele with a figure of Vishnu


British Museum

British Museum

Vishnu is the preserver and maintainer of spiritual, moral and temporal order in the Hindu trinity. His character is almost like a monarch, which explains his tall crown, elaborate jewellery and upright posture. In his hands he holds a chakra (wheel) and gada (mace). His third hand is held in varadamudra (the gesture of giving), and his fourth hand, now broken, would probably have held a conch. Vishnu is also commonly seen holding a lotus, alluded to here by the small floral motif on his open right palm. This stele is typical of the sculptures from niches in tenth-century temple walls in central India.Most of the figures surrounding the central icon can be identified as Vishnu's ten incarnations (avatara). The first three: Matsya (the fish), Kurma (the tortoise) and Varaha (the boar) feature in the myth of the great deluge and creation; Narasimha (man-lion), Vamana (dwarf), Parashurama (Rama with the battle axe) and Rama (the mythical king and protagonist of the epic Ramayana) all display characteristics of conquest and the vanquishing of evil forces; Rama is further developed to embody righteousness, and is held as a paragon of responsible, virtuous conduct; Krishna is another mythical figure with a widespread following, whose cult is of great antiquity; Buddha is regarded by Hindus as the ninth avatara, and the tenth, Kalki, in the nature of a prophecy, is in the form of a horse and is yet to arrive.

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  • Title: Sandstone stele with a figure of Vishnu
  • Date Created: 900/999
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 127.00cm (approx)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: carved
  • Subject: hindu deity; attendant
  • Registration number: 1872,0701.41
  • Place: Found/Acquired India
  • Material: sandstone
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Bridge, John. Donated by Bridge, Fanny. Donated by Baker, Edgar. Previous owner/ex-collection Bridge, John. Previous owner/ex-collection Stuart, Charles