Holy Family on Mount Kailash

10th century
Nepal
Gray stone
Height: 68 cm - 26 ¾ in

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This charming sculpture depicts Shiva andhis consort, Parvati, seated in loving embrace on Mount Kailash.[1] Surrounded by a host of family andconsorts, the couple gazes tenderly at one another in a display of amorousaffection. The position of theirbodies upon a tiger-skin covered throne, Parvati leaning on Shiva's leg andShiva encircling Parvati with his arm, further attests to their intimateconnection. Shiva displays atrident and rosary in two of his outstretched hands, while the remaining one isheld at his chest, bearing a spherical lotus bud. On Shiva's left, his mount, Nandi, is carved just above animage of Kumara, his son. A groupof three female figures attends to the comforts of Parvati on the right. In the upper section of the relief, twotrident-bearing divinities stand guard from rocky balconies carved on eitherside of the central couple. Between these, a group of ascetics turns inward towards Ganga, the rivergoddess, who sits frontal with her hands grasping the thickly matted locks of Shiva'shair. As a symbol of theirsupremacy, the central couple is covered by a parasol from above. Surya and Chandra, representing the sunand moon, have been included on either side of the parasol. Finally, in the lower section, adelightful group including elephant-headed Ganesha, skeletal Bhringi, andVirabhadra (a gana favored byParvati), performs for the royal family. Animal-headed boys and musicians play instruments as accompaniment forthe lively dance of their counterparts.

Derived from a passage in the Matsyapurana,[2]this version of Uma-Mahesvara is the most popular Shaiva theme in Nepalisculpture.[3] The combination of the subject's strongnarrative component, portraying the family in a court-like setting, and itspowerful divine significance made it a favorite of local sculptors. Typically, their interpretation of thescene included a balanced composition of figures within a landscape, thepresence of Ganga and an increased number of attendants, and an overallwhimsically anecdotal quality. Thepresent relief, carved with exquisite details throughout, beautifullyexemplifies this tradition.

Notes:

[1] Mount Kailash is known as Shiva's habitat in Hindu mythology. In Nepali sculpture, Uma-Mahesvara istypically set within a stylized rocky landscape, meant to portray MountKailash. See Pal (1985), p. 92.

[2] See Pal (2003), p. 29.

[3] Ibid.