Bhairava

Standing in the dynamic, diagonal pose known as the hunter’s strance (pratyalidha), Bhairava, a fierce manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva, has three menacing heads and six hands, five of which brandish weapons. Somewhat surprisingly, the sixth hand holds a full-blown lotus stem complete with leaves. Each scowling face has three round bulging eyes, an open mouth displaying fangs, and a trim beard delineated in the fashion typical of Nepalese imagery. On each head, the bristling hair is held into place by a five-lobed crown decorated with human skulls. The god’s robust body is ornamented with a range of twisted serpents which serve as earrings, bracelets, and anklets, while a knotted serpent also serves as the sacred thread (yajnopavita) draped over his broad chest and ample belly. Bhairava’s signature apparel, a tiger skin with engraved tufts of fur, is his only garment; in addition he wears an openwork ritual apron composed of human bones, with bone swags that sway to either side of his body and accentuate his vigorous, heroic movement.

Historical period(s)
15th-16th century
Medium
Gilt copper repousse with pigment
Dimensions
H x W x D: 41.9 x 41.1 x 17.7 cm (16 1/2 x 16 3/16 x 6 15/16 in)
Geography
Nepal
Credit Line
Purchase -- funds provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries
Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
S1999.116
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Sculpture
Type

Figure

Keywords
lotus, Nepal, Shiva, snake, WWII-era provenance
Provenance

To 1964
Doris Wiener Gallery, New York. [1]

From 1964 to ?
Stuart Cary Welch (1928-2008), Cambridge, Massachusetts, purchased from Doris Wiener, Inc., New York in 1964. [2]

From ? to 1999
Doris Wiener Gallery, New York. [3]

From 1999
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, purchased from Doris Wiener Gallery, New York in 1999. [4]
Notes:

[1] According to the Curatorial Justification, “The object was sold in New York in 1964 to Stuart Cary Welch by Doris Wiener; it was subsequently published in P. Pal ed. Nepal: Where the Gods are Young, New York: Asia House Gallery, 1975 as cat. #66.” See Acquisition Justification, copy in object file, Collections Management Office. Please also note, the 1975 catalogue entry edited by P. Pal, where the object is mentioned, is credited to “Lent anonymously”.

[2] See note 1.

[3] See Acquisition Consideration Form, object file, Collections Management Office.

[4] See note 3.

Previous Owner(s)

Doris Wiener Gallery
Stuart Cary Welch 1928-2008

Description

Standing in the dynamic, diagonal pose known as the hunter's strance (pratyalidha), Bhairava, a fierce manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva, has three menacing heads and six hands, five of which brandish weapons. Somewhat surprisingly, the sixth hand holds a full-blown lotus stem complete with leaves. Each scowling face has three round bulging eyes, an open mouth displaying fangs, and a trim beard delineated in the fashion typical of Nepalese imagery. On each head, the bristling hair is held into place by a five-lobed crown decorated with human skulls. The god's robust body is ornamented with a range of twisted serpents which serve as earrings, bracelets, and anklets, while a knotted serpent also serves as the sacred thread (yajnopavita) draped over his broad chest and ample belly. Bhairava's signature apparel, a tiger skin with engraved tufts of fur, is his only garment; in addition he wears an openwork ritual apron composed of human bones, with bone swags that sway to either side of his body and accentuate his vigorous, heroic movement.

Label

Standing in the dynamic, diagonal pose known as the hunter's stance (pratyalidha), Bhairava, a fierce manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva, is one of the most important deities of Nepal, sacred to Hindus and Buddhists alike. Each of his three scowling faces has round bulging eyes, an open mouth displaying fangs, and a trim beard, while his six hands brandish weapons. His robust body is ornamented with a range of twisted serpents, which serve as earrings, bracelets, anklets, and sacred thread (yajnopavita). He wears a tiger skin and a ritual apron composed of human bones.

The image is made by the complex technique called repoussé, in which a copper sheet is cold-hammered alternately from front and back to achieve the desired form. The image is constructed of more than twenty separately made parts. It was then covered with mercury gilding, and during worship it would have received applications of turmeric and vermilion.

Published References
  • Pratapaditya Pal. Nepal: Where the Gods are Young. Exh. cat. New York. pp. 128-129, pl. 66.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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