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Among #FormsOfShiva, this is one of the most enigmatical sculptures I have ever seen – the Rudra Shiva from Tala in Chhattisgarh. This photo is not of the original, but of a replica from the Raipur Museum. You can also see a replica at the Khajuraho Museum. The original still stands at Tala, Chhattisgarh, the site where he was found.
It is a huge figure, about 2.54 m (around 8.3 feet) high, and at first glance, appears to be made up of faces. Take a closer look, and you will notice that there aren’t just faces, but also animals! The head has two snakes coiled around; the nose is a lizard; his eyes are frogs, their mouths open, holding eggs as eyeballs; his moustaches are fishes, his mouth and chin are a crab, and his ears are doves. His neck is another snake, and on one of the shoulders you can see a bird, maybe an owl, behind which are again snakes, his hands are like elephant feet, and his fingers , as well as male organ, are snakes too! His chest, stomach and thighs are all human faces (upper ones male, lower ones female), and his feet are tigers!
He is a grotesque, yet fascinating figure, one who seems to be a composite of many creatures. He could be a cosmic figure of Shiva, though much older than Shiva as we know Him. He dates back at least to the 6th Century C.E, though he may be older, and is believed to be a remnant of an older, Pre-Vedic form of worship, probably tribal in origin.
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As Nataraja, Shiva is the cosmic dancer, dancing the world in and out of existence. He holds in one of his hands, fire, which consumes the world, and in the other hand, the damru, the drum, whose divine vibration is the primordial sound, which restores the world. When I think of Nataraja, it is usually the Chola Bronzes which first come to mind, especially since I associate the Lord with not just the cosmic dance, but dance itself. However, for this #FormsOfShiva series, I have chosen his depiction at the Elephanta Caves near Mumbai.
Much of the sculpture has been destroyed, but the figure is still an impressive one. Movement is evident through every line of the sculpture, from Shiva’s gracefully curved body, to the diagonal positioning of all his limbs. Notice the snake, looped around the axe in his hand, but trying to move towards Shiva, as if unable to stay away for even the duration of the dance! On Shiva’s left is Parvati, though she is but barely visible. Witnessing this divine sight are the Gods and divine beings shown all around. Brahma is most visible, his seat carried by a flock of swans! Nearby are Ganesha and Karthikeya, as well as other deities who aren’t too clear, as well as celestial attendants.
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Shiva, it is said, was seated on the Himalayas, facing the south, when he taught the rishis Yoga and Jnana. Therefore, he came to be known as ‘Dakshinamurti’, and is usually seen in the southern niche of the sanctum in temples. He is considered the master of all arts, including music, and is sometimes shown holding a Veena. In this particular sculpture, he is shown playing the Mridangam, and is called ‘Mridanga Dakshinamurti’.
This extremely rare depiction is on the vimanam (spire) of Vettuvan Kovil, which is an 8th Century Pandyan rock cut temple in Kazhugumalai, near Tirunelveli, in Tamilnadu. The rock cut temple has many depictions of Gods as well as Ganas, including another one of Shiva as Dakshinamurthi holding a Veena.
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I first saw an image of Shiva as Gajasamharamurti in the Vazhuvoor Temple near Thanjavur in Tamilnadu. The bronze image, lit only by an oil lamp, was so impressive that it felt as if the Lord destroying the elephant demon would appear in front of us at any moment. No camera can capture that beauty or that dynamism in that bronze sculpture, (and, in any case, photography is prohibited), but since then, my eyes are drawn towards this form of Shiva wherever I go. #FormsOfShiva

This particular Gajasamharamurti, or Gajasur Badh, as he is labelled, is at the Gujari Mahal Museum in Gwalior. It is a 7th century sculpture, originally found at Kota. The museum unfortunately does not give any more details, but the sculpture is as impressive as the Vazhuvoor Bronze. The face is partly destroyed, but the multiple arms holding weapons, and the left leg pushing down the elephant demon depict dynamism and movement. He is literally tearing the elephant apart, and holding the skin with two of his hands, which acts as a frame for the figure! Along with him are Ganesha and Nandi, standing near the demon. Parvati is seated, but her body posture conveys a mixture of awe and fear, and it feels as if she wants to run away from the sight, but can’t bear to tear herself away either!! Behind her is another figure, probably Karthikeya.
I find it extremely interesting that this terrible form of the Lord, tearing apart a demon, is also a family scene, with the entire family – Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, Karthikeya and Nandi – depicted together!
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Bhairava, in our general understanding, is a fierce form of Shiva. We usually see him as a guardian deity, with his vehicle, the dog, and he is worshipped across the country in Shiva as well as Devi temples. This image in the #FormsOfShiva series is Bhairava too, but here he is shown as a calm and pleasing deity, identified only by the presence of the dog at his heels. We saw this figure of Bhairava on the outer wall of a cenotaph within the grounds of the Deo Bagh complex at Gwalior, a Neemrana property. The cenotaph, built in the early 1800s is covered with images of deities, forms of both Shiva as well as Vishnu, as well as their devotees, such as Shravan Kumar, Narada and Meera. I chose this image of Bhairava from the cenotaph to illustrate the sheer variety of sculptural forms of the Lord, and the differences in styles.
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Lingodbhava from the Ambernath Temple near Mumbai.

The temple, built during the Shilahara reign in 1060 AD is one of the finest examples of Shilahara art and architecture, and the temple is covered, both inside and outside with innumerable interesting forms of the Lord.

It is said that Shiva once appeared in the form of a blazing pillar, to quell the pride of Brahma and Vishnu, who believed themselves to be supreme. At this point, Shiva appeared as the pillar of fire, of immeasurable size. Brahma and Vishnu set out to find the top and bottom ends of this massive pillar – Brahma, on his vehicle, the swan, headed towards the heavens, in search of the tip, while Vishnu as Varaha plunged into the depths of the earth to find its base. Neither did find what they searched for, and ultimately praised the pillar and accepted that Shiva indeed was superior to them both. It is this story depicted here, with Shiva as the pillar of light in the centre, Brahma on the left, identified by his 3 heads, and Vishnu on the right.

Further, the pillar tells more of the story, though it is partly damaged, and not too clear – on the bottom is Shiva, sitting in his meditative posture, in the middle is Varaha, burrowing into the earth, and on top is Brahma, soaring towards the skies.
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Chaturmurkha Linga, 2nd Century, C.E., Mathura, Kushana Period, National Museum, New Delhi.
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