Lakulisa with Brahma and Vishnu

12th century, Pala Dynasty
Eastern India, Bengal
Copper alloy
Height: 14 cm - 5 ½ in

Rarely portrayed in this form, Shiva asLakulisa sits at the center of the triad, flanked by Brahma on his right andVishnu on his left.[1] Although his hands are held in thetypically Buddhist gesture of turning the wheel of law, dharmacakra mudra, Lakulisa was, in actuality, an important Saivateacher who is credited for having reorganized the Pasupata sect of Saivismduring the first century A.C.E.[2] The fact that he was later rendered indivine form as an avatar of Shiva, bearing attributes in his multiple arms,affirms his pivotal role within the religion.

The charming group is seated, each upon anindividual throne, atop a tall stepped base. Lakulisa, hierarchically the largest in scale, gazesoutwards engagingly. With one legpendent and supported by a small lotus flower beneath, the deity is poisedabove his companions. Wearing ashort patterned dhoti belted belowthe hips, he is adorned by a pendant necklace, armbands, bracelets, earrings,anklets, and a meditation cord that hangs diagonally across his otherwise nakedtorso. Lakulisa's thick hair isarranged in a jatamukuta, secured inplace by ribbons on either side. No attributes are held in his primary hands which express a gesture ofteaching, but his secondary left grasps a staff (lakula) bearing the head of a serpent, and his secondary right, asnake who peers over his shoulder. At the deity's feet, a diminutive nandilooks up in adoration, and at the bottom of the base, a disciple kneels inreverence. Open lotus blossomsextend on either side, functioning as seats for the attending gods. Brahma, identified by his four heads,holds a vessel and an ascetic's staff in two of his four hands. On the other side, Vishnu raises twoattributes, a gada and cakra, while holding his primary handspressed together in anjali mudra.

Overall, the harmonious composition andfine modeling of this bronze combine to create an exceptional realization ofthe theme in Bengali art.


[1] The iconography associated with Shiva as Lakulisa is rare. Another pink sandstone example fromMadhya Pradesh, 8th century, once in the Pan-Asian Collection,depicts the deity surrounded by his four disciples. See Pal (1977), no. 42 and Kramrisch (1981), no. 67.

[2] See Pal (1977), p. 75.