The marriage of Shiva and Parvati (western Rajasthan or UP, later 10th century)

(downloaded June 2001)

"The Marriage of Shiva & Parvati. Northern India, Western Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh. Second half of the 10th century. Pink Sandstone. 81cm."

From the commentary provided by John Eskenazi Ltd., the gallery showing this piece:

The iconography of the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is perfectly illustrated by this magnificent sculpture, symbolising the potential of conjugal bliss.

After the death of his first wife, Sati, Shiva was left bereft. He withdrew from the world and roamed the wilderness living a life of austerity. This worried the gods, who realised that Shiva's continued refusal to attend to the needs of the world would create universal disharmony. They decided to reincarnate Sati as Parvati, who grew into a supremely beautiful young woman. Although she loved Shiva instinctively, her attempts to woo him were spurned. Brahma intervened and sent Kamadeva, the god of desire, and Vasanta, the Spring, down to Shiva. Kamadeva fired an arrow and as soon as Shiva saw Parvati he fell in love once more. They were married in a ceremony performed by Brahma.

In this stele, Brahma is seated on a lotus above the happy pair. On either side of him an attendant holds a garland and at the corners of the composition are two seated gods. They are four armed and each carries a lotus. Conventionally, these figures should be Indra, king of the gods, and Vasudeva, lord of the winds, but in this example the figure above Parvati is female. Likewise, the chowri bearer at her feet is female and the one who is attendant on Shiva is male; there is a conscious intention to make one half of the composition male and one female. It is Shiva's arm around Parvati's body and her arm around his shoulder that joins them and emphasizes their union. Each holds the lilakamala, the lotus of sexual appeal. The image is charged with hope and the viewer is in much the same situation as he would be at any marriage, witnessing a vow and praying for the future wellbeing of the couple.

Being gods, the happiness of Shiva and Parvati reverberates throughout the universe, ushering in an age of peace and prosperity. The god who is capable of violence and destruction is now engendered to use his powers to promote harmony. It will be realised that Parvati is not merely a consort, but a powerful force in her own right; she is regarded as a manifestation of the great goddess who is the basis of all life. It is only through her positive intervention that this benign side of Shiva's character is revealed.

The sculpture appears to date from the second half of the 10th century, when Tantric practices were pervading Hindu ideas. Essentially, Tantric beliefs recognise the fact that male and female forces are interdependent and therefore, the combination of the two is required to bring a ritual to fruition and manifest a state of ultimate spirituality. The male element, purusha, is intellectual and the female, prakriti, is physical. It is only through the application of prakriti that purusha can be activated and released into the world. Therefore, in this image, Shiva is dependent on Parvati. The 11th century temples at Khajuraho include sculptures which explicitly depict sexual rituals but here the implied message is even more powerful. Parvati is clearly taking the initiative; whilst Shiva stands in a dignified, godlike pose, she moves towards him and, with her arm around his shoulder, appears to be about to pull him towards her

The potency of the situation is emphasised by the strong vertical lines of the composition. The architectural elements of the lion and elephant are tucked in behind the two principal figures to maintain a narrow effect. Parvati's contained energy is suggested by the tight angles of her body, giving her a tension which contrasts with the rather languid appearance of Shiva. Nandi, resting at Shiva's feet, raises his head upwards. Even the lozenge shaped lotus decorations on either side of them are elongated. An invisible diagonal line running between Shiva and Parvati's eyes is paralleled by another running between their hands. These are intercepted by another diagonal line running from Shiva's head, through his hand to Parvati's left knee, paralleled with one running from the hood of the cobra through Parvati's head to her hand. The whole effect is one of aesthetic harmony.

Behind Parvati, another vertical form, that of the rearing cobra, gives a further indication of the sexual magnetism of the situation. Although the cobra is held by Shiva, here it is placed behind Parvati, symbolising the kundalini, the serpent power which remains dormant in the lower part of one's body but which, when awakened rises up through the body.

Comparison with other north Indian mediaeval sculptures indicates that this stele dates from the second half of the 10th century and comes from eastern Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh, a region which saw an enormous amount of temple building in the 9th-11th centuries.


--Desai, Vishakha and Mason, Darielle (eds): Gods, Guardians and Lovers, Temple Sculpture from North India, A.D. 700 - 1200, New York, 1993
--Gupta, Shakti M.: Legends Around Shiva, Bombay, 1979
--Harle, J. C.: The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, London, 1986
--Kramrisch, Stella: Manifestations of Shiva, Philadelphia, 1981
--Michell, George and Leach, Linda Y.: In the Image of Man, London, 1987

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