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Paintings > Thangka > Ardhanarishvara (Shiva Shakti): The Primeval Parents
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Ardhanarishvara (Shiva Shakti): The Primeval Parents

Ardhanarishvara (Shiva Shakti): The Primeval Parents

Ardhanarishvara (Shiva Shakti): The Primeval Parents

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Tibetan Thangka Painting

Size of Painted Surface 23 inch X 32 inch
Size with Brocade 36 inch X 57 inch
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Ardhanarishvara (Shiva Shakti): The Primeval Parents

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Of the composite images combining a male and female deity, the most celebrated one is that of Ardhanarishvara form of Shiva and Parvati. It is said that the motive behind the syncretism was to bring together a number of cult deities on a common platform. In this, respective deities of the two major cults are shown sharing the same body. The spirit of this syncretism is also contained in the Ardhanarishvara images combining the two principal deities of Shaivism and Shaktivism.

Here, however, the combined form of Shiva and Parvati has been depicted as the primordial parents of the universe. In the painting the four-armed Ardhanarishvara is shown standing on a lotus above the water in Agni. It is said that primeval parents first revealed themselves in the Agni at the creation of the world when all was perfect void and from which at his own will the primordial parents was produced. The concept of Ardhanarishvara has been depicted in many Brahmanical texts. The opening verse of the Raghuvamsam of Kalidasa gives a beautiful exposition of this image concept in the following words: "vagarthaviva sampriktau vagartha-pratipattaye, jagatah pitarau vande parvati-parameshvara." Kalidas's concept of the primeval parents of the world, Pavati-Parameshvara, united closely and inseparably like world and their senses, brings to our mind the image of Ardhanarishvara.

This composite form is not only referred to as Ardhanarishvara or Parvati-Parameshvara, there is several other terms frequently used to denote the combined form of Shiva and Parvati. The Vishnudharmottaram refers to this image type as Gaurishvara, and states that this type of image has its left part visualized as consort (vamardhadayitatanuh) of Shambhu or Shiva. It further states that this type of image embodies the concept of non-duality of Purusha (male principle) and Prakriti (female principle) : abhedabhinna prakritih purusena. This text also gives simple definition of this iconic form – the image should be four-armed, the two right hands hold the attributes of Shiva – and the two left hands show the attributes of Parvati. Sometimes vahana (vehicle) of the respective deities have also been shown. The Manasollasa gives a more elaborate description of the image-type: the right chest of the figure should be flat, while the left should show the female breast as shown in the present painting. The hair of right half of the image should be arranged in matted locks, while the hair of the left part of the head should be disposed in a bun. The forehead should have, on its right part, the half third eye.

The composite figure has sweet oval face with gold crown. The right half of the head has skulls in the crown. River Gang is flowing from the coils of Shiva's matted hair. The right half is wearing necklaces of Rudraksha, while the left half, gold necklaces. The right half, moreover, is adorned with serpent armlets, bracelets and anklets of Rudraksha, while the left half is adorned with exquisitely designed gold armlets, bracelets and anklets. There is a serpent and a flowing scarf on the shoulder of Shiva. The right half is wearing a tiger-skin skirt, while the left half a silk dhoti. One right hand of Ardhanarishvara is holding a trident with damaru, while the lower right hand is in abhaya-mudra. The upper left hand holds blooming flowers, while the lower right hand is in varada-mudra. The vahana of Shiva, Nandi has been shown on the right of the lotus throne, while lion, vehicle of Parvati, on the left of the throne. The border of the aureole of the left side is exquisitely designed in gold. The composition and colour-combination is brilliant.

Select Bibliography

D.C. Bhattacharyya, Iconology of Composite Images, Delhi, 1980

D.C. Sircar (Ed.), Shakti Cult and Tara, Calcutta, 1967

Jitendra Nath Banerjea, The Development of Hindu Iconography, Delhi, 2002

N.K. Bhattasali, Iconography of the Buddhist and Iconographical Sculptures in the Dacca Museum, Dacca, 1929, Delhi, 1972 (reprint)

R.C. Majumdar (Ed.), The Age of Imperial Kanauj, Bombay, 1955

T.A. Gopinatha Rao, Elements Of Hindu Iconography, Delhi, 1997

This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma, whose Doctorate thesis is on "Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)".

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