This stone stele depicts the four-armed god Vishnu holding his attributes of the mace, discus and conch, while his fourth hand makes the gesture of beneficence (varada). The various incarnations of Vishnu appear in the small scenes above his two attendants. The style and use of polished black schist suggest that this figure is likely to have been the work of the extremely prolific Pala school of sculpture, which flourished under the rule of the Pala Empire between about AD 800 and 1100.
This figure of Vishnu is listed in The Book of Benefactors at the Museum as a gift from Sir William Hedges in 1690. The entry notes that it was originally acquired from a temple on Sagar Island, which lies in the Bay of Bengal.
Sir William Hedges was appointed as agent and governor of the East India Company’s establishments in the Bay of Bengal in 1681. He kept a diary during his three turbulent years in India in which he recounts a trip to Sagar Island on 13th March 1683. He was awarded a knighthood in 1688 and never returned to India.
Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 48 on pp. 39-40, pp. ix, 29, & 40, illus. p. 40
Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 24 May 2006-23 December 2008, Treasures: Antiquities, Eastern Art, Coins, and Casts: Exhibition Guide, Rune Frederiksen, ed. (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2006), no. 2 on p. 5, illus. p. 5 fig. 2
Branfoot, Crispin, ‘Pilgrimage in South Asia: Crossing Boundaries of Space and Faith’, Ruth Barnes and Crispin Branfoot, eds, Pilgrimage: The Sacred Journey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2006), p. 46, illus. p. 46 fig. 37
Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2006, Pilgrimage: The Sacred Journey, Ruth Barnes and Crispin Branfoot, eds. (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2006), p. 46, illus. p. 46 fig. 37
Vishnu is, with Shiva, one of the two most important gods in later Hinduism. He is regarded as sustainer of the universe and maintainer of order. Assuming various forms (avatars), he restores the balance of good and evil in the world.
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