Shiva is often represented as Ardhanarishvara, where his form is fused
halfway into the body of his spouse Parvati. This is exemplified in the
present sculpture where the bisexual image is divided vertically, the
right-hand half, which is male, being that of Shiva proper, and the left
side having female anatomy, that of Parvati.
Corresponding to the ideal of Shiva, the right half is clad in a tiger-skin
loin cloth, and Parvati on the left is draped in a sari. She also has a
breast, covered in a bodice as also an elaborate nose-ring. The jewelry of
the two halves including necklaces, bracelets, and armlets, are different
from each other. At Shiva's side can be seen his mount, Nandi the bull, and
near Parvati is her lion.
An original understanding of the Ardhanarishvara concept was expressed by
Kalidasa, the Sanskrit poet believed to have lived in the 5th century AD. At
the head of his poem 'Raghuvamsha,' he addressed a verse to Shiva and
Parvati, comparing the literary fusion of meaning (artha, masculine) and the
speech which utters it (vach, feminine) to their harmonious union in which,
although as inextricably conjoined as a word is with its sense, the couple
yet retained their individual importance.
In the mundane world all men and women reflect the duality expressed in the
concept of Ardhanarishvara. Every man and woman contains within himself or
herself both male and female principles. A man is a man only because of the
excess in him of the principle of masculinity, and a woman is a woman
because of the predominance of the principle of femininity. It is believed
that this maleness and femaleness generally remain in conflict within the
individual and can to some extent be made to harmonize with the opposite sex
during sexual intercourse when the couple, symbolizing Shiva and Parvati,
realize the Absolute.
Indeed, while emphasizing the essential non duality of the supreme
principle, this image is remarkable for the precision with which it
distinguishes the male and female elements of the deity while harmoniously
fusing them into a single form.
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