This exotic brass-statue, strangely conceived and cast, represents Lord Shiva in his five-faced manifestation revered in the sculptural convention as representing his Sadashiva form : Shiva beyond time. With all five faces cast in a straight line, as on a piece of paper or canvas, the image makes a complete departure from the tradition of sculptures in stone or metal that arrange four of the five faces on four sides, or into four directions, and the fifth, above them, facing the sky. Though this iconography was used mostly for Mukha-ling – phallus-with-face icons, not anthropomorphic, where rest of the body’s anatomy did not condition this placing, it has been for long the most accepted form of Panchamukha Shiva icons. In conceiving and casting this brass statue the artist has completely rejected this model of the Shiva’s five-faced icon. His arrangement of faces in straight line has helped attributing to one of them the central position affording him the scope for specifying which of the Shiva’s many manifestations he proposes to represent as the main form in the statue. This manipulation has afforded adequate space for the rest of the body’s anatomy, especially for each of the ten arms to emerge in its full form, not as branching from the main two, and for a sitting posture helping determine the image kind.
All five heads have independent elegantly knotted coiffures. A massive form of river Ganga has been rendered as emerging from the coiffure of the face in the centre. The coiffures on all other four faces have snakes with their hoods up encircling their knots. Obviously, the craftsman intended to represent Sadashiva in his manifestation as Gangadhara – one who carries river Ganga in his coiffure. A well-known myth, pleased with the long rigorous penance of king Bhagiratha, Ganga, a river as also a vain goddess residing in heaven, agreed to descend on the earth for the redemption of the cursed selves of the Bhagiratha’s sixty thousand ancestors wandering since long. However, she warned him that in the course of her descent the earth would not be able to hold her current and would be swept. Ganga had a passion for Shiva and wished to possess him but Shiva never approved her feelings for him. Ganga, out of her lust for him, designed to obtain him by cunning. She advised Bhagiratha to please Shiva to hold her on his head when she descended on the earth as he alone could bear her flow. By another round of penance Bhagiratha pleased Shiva who arrested Ganga in the locks of his hair and discharged only after she long entreated. This gave Shiva his Gangadhara name.
Equally significant is the sitting posture – ‘asana’, of the image, with both feet turned upwards like lotus petals, known in the iconographic convention as ‘padmasana’, usually a posture of Yogic meditation. Apart, he is seated on a tiger skin, the usual mattress of Yogis. This sitting posture along with the style of locks of hair braided like snakes scattered all over, form of eyes and the demeanour of the face, as also an abundance of snakes with a couple of them comprising his ear-ornaments of the central face and his soiled figure, all suggest that he is in Yogic posture. Thus the statue also defines his form as Yogeshvara. The image is ten-armed, a logical sequence of a five-headed form. He is holding in those on the right side knife, trident, bell and spear; the fifth is held in ‘abhaya’; in those on the left, he is carrying fire, mace, noose, serpent and a rod with head. He has a bold iconographic form with a broad round face and forehead with ‘tri-punda’ mark and ‘tri-netra’ – the third eye. The face in the centre has crescent on its coiffure – Shiva’s form known as Shashidhara, one who bears moon.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.