Each of the major Hindu deities is associated with a vahana; a bird or animal on which he or she rides. This sculpture is of Nandi the bull, vahana of the powerful god Shiva. Worshippers arriving at a temple dedicated to Shiva will often encounter a large sculpture, like this one, of the reclining bull gazing devotedly towards the inner shrine, where the image of his master Shiva resides.
Sculpted in hard basalt stone, this image shows Nandi as a young Indian humped bull, ceremonially decorated with chains, bells and ornaments. The bull reclines with one foreleg tucked aside and the other half-raised, and he licks his nostril with his tongue. This sculpture has the typically sweet and beguiling expression of Indian bovines, which has made them a favourite animal subject for Indian sculptors and painters over the centuries.
Shiva’s association with a bull dates from very early times. The significance of the bull as a symbol of fertility and strength was widespread in India as early as the Indus Valley Civilization (about 2000 BC), as well as in ancient Egypt, Greece and the Near East.
Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 64 on pp. 52-53, pl. 9 (colour) & p. 53
Penny, Nicholas, The Materials of Sculpture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), illus. p. 26 fig. 23
London: Hayward Gallery, 25 March-13 June 1982, In the Image of Man: The Indian Perception of the Universe through 2000 Years of Painting and Sculpture, George Michell, Catherine Lampert, and Tristram Holland, eds (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1982), no. 434 on p. 215
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