Material Culture Timeline (DMA Edition)

Vicki Liu

Vishnu as Vahara

4th to 5th century CE

Arts of Asia

306 Hindu Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

*** The photograph of Vishnu as Vahara sandstone sculpture is part of Dallas Museum of Art’s art collection


Description: The status of Vishnu as Vahara is a sandstone statue and is made in the 10th century. The sculpture is the reminiscence of the epic of Vahara Avatar. The story of Vahara Avatar entails Vishnu, one of the Hindu gods and preserver and protector of the universe, rescuing Earth Goddess, Bhudevi, from demon Hiranayaksha. The story started with Vishnu’s two gatekeepers who turned away four wandering sages. Then the two gatekeepers were cursed and reborn into two demon brothers Hiranayaksha and Hiranakashyap. Hiranayaksha captured Earth Goddess, Bhudevi, and tried to drown her in cosmic water. Then Vishnu took the form of Vahara and rescued Bhudevi from the hands of the demon brothers.

Historical context: The sculpture was created in the 10th century CE, but we do not have the information on the artisan who created the sculpture. The artwork is one of the artistic replicate of many sculptures that represent the story of Vishnu as Vahara. Hindus fervently worshipped Vahara in the Gupta period in Central India from 4th to 6th century CE. The earliest creation of the sculpture was dated to 401 CE in the Udayagiki cave, which was one of the many caves that housed historically significant Gupta architecture. The art was created to symbolize the protection and guidance provided by the Gupta kings. The sculpture of Vishnu and Vahara was carved on the wall of the cave, which was used as a temple in the Gupta period to worship Vishnu. We can tell from the abundance of Vishnu as Vahara sculptures that Vishnu was a popular god in the Gupta. There were many temples built in the Gupta period to worship Vishnu since Vishnu was considered the chief god of three supreme deities of Hinduism. Many of these temples have the Vishnu as Avatar sculpture carved on the sandstone wall.

Symbology: As we can see in the sculpture, Vahara takes the form of half animal and half human. There are two versions of Vahara, one in full human form, and one in half animal and half human form. In this version, the Vahara has the head of a boar and the body of a human. In addition, Vahara carries four things with him: the conch, chakra, mace, and lotus flower. The conch symbolizes the primeval sound of creation. The chakra represents the mind, and mace symbolizes mental and physical strengths. In addition, the lotus flower on top of Vishnu symbolizes his thrown and liberation from samsara, the wheel of birth and rebirth. In the sculpture, Vishnu carries a dagger or mace, symbolizing power and domination. We cannot see from this version of sculpture here, but a long snake wraps around Vishnu’s body, and the snake is the demon brother Hiranayaksha that Vishnu defeats.

Another detail we see from the sculpture is that the Earth Goddess Bhudevi is holding onto Vahara’s tusk and is beaming with joy and shyness.

Vishnu has his left foot stamping on the Naga, the king who is guarding the cosmic ocean.


Dima Balut


8th Century

Arts of Asia – 306 Hindu Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

Pictured: “Uma-Maheshvara” (circa 8th century) from the Dallas Museum of Art

The Uma-Maheshvara sculpture pictured above comes from Rajasthan in around the 8th century CE. Specifically, the bluish-green stone of the relief indicates that it comes from the Maitraka Dynasty, whose rule extended into Valahabi, Malwa, and Rajasthan from the 5th to 8th century CE. After the disintegration of the Gupta Empire, Gupta art forms spread into several regional empires, and the Maitraka rulers adopted the art and further developed it. Unsurprisingly, the Maitraka rulers were great patrons of religion, and most were adherents of Shiva. In fact, many of their copper plates and grants bore his symbols, which explains why he is the subject of this particular sculpture and exemplifies how kingship and religion were tightly connected. The Maitraka rulers even titled themselves “Parama-Maheshwara” (highest devotee of Shiva), but they drew “merit” from their tolerance of all religions. The shape of the relief suggests that it was meant for a temple niche, and it would have served as a means of communication between worshippers and gods. Notably, such stone sculptures flourished after the establishment of the Gupta Empire and were specifically designed to bring life to the stories of the gods.

There are multiple variations of the Uma-Maheshvara. In each one, Shiva, the god of creation and destruction, is depicted in a loving embrace with his wife Parvati, the goddess of fertility and love. Before their marriage and after the death of his wife Sita, Shiva had retreated to the Himalayas. However, because the gods and people were being terrorized by the demon Taraka, and it was their son who was destined to kill him, Kamadeva, the god of desire, aimed an arrow at Shiva to trick him into falling in love with Parvati faster. Shiva, realizing what Kamadeva had done, burnt him to ashes with the fire of his third eye. 

Shiva and Parvati married only after she performed penance for several years. The unity of their opposing forces is meant to represent the duality of the universe: Parvati’s benevolence balances the uncontrollable, often destructive, passion of Shiva. Because they represent the creation, their fertility and sexuality are emphasized, a practice characteristic of Hindu art, which, unlike Western traditions, recognizes the role of intimate experiences. Indeed, Shiva is associated with the Linga, a phallus symbol of fertility. After his retreat to the Daru forest, the rishis (sages) cursed Shiva’s manhood and caused it to fall off, resulting in earthquakes. The rishis, fearful, asked for forgiveness, which was granted under the condition that they worship the phallus forever.

In the relief, Parvati is holding Shiva’s phallus in her right hand and a mirror in her left hand. Next to her is Shiva, depicted with multiple arms as a sign of his great power; he rests his left arm on his wife’s shoulder and holds a trident in his upper left hand. The contrast between the mirror, a feminine symbol of wisdom, and the trident, a masculine symbol of the hero-warrior, crystallizes the importance of both when creating the cosmos. A close look at Shiva’s face reveals his third eye, the eye of wisdom, which he used to burn Kamadeva. The figures at their feet are likely their offspring, Kattriyeka and Ganesha. The Maitraka king would have funded this sculpture as a way to display his religious fervor and political power.


Brigitta Pulins

Shiva Nataraja

11th Century

Arts of Asia – 306 Hindu Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

The picture of Shiva Nataraja is taken from the Dallas Museum of Art’s 306 Hindu Gallery.

Shiva Nataraja sculptures were made in the state of Tamil Nadu in south India during the Chola period. This period, occurring from the 9th to 13th century, focused on exploration, trade and artistic development. Individuals living in the Chola period heavily supported art forms including poetry, music and dance. Many temples were built that functioned as both centers for religious life and political activity. This allowed religion, culture and politics to be connected. The Chola territories were bounded by the Maldives in the South and the Godavari River in the North and included parts of South India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka gave the Chola Empire access to copper reserves initiating the artistic innovation of bronze sculpting. Bronze sculpting used the lost wax technique to create statues with great detail. This lengthy technique had many stages beginning with the creation of a detailed wax model. This technique also used an intricate folding system. A plant was used to measure the length of each body part on the wax model. A clay mold was then made around the wax model. After a prayer was said, the casting of the bronze began. This technique was called the lost wax technique because as the mold and wax were heated, wax was lost. This was necessary so that the bronze could be poured into the empty clay mold. After the bronze cooled, the clay was broken, and the bronze statue revealed.

There is endless symbolic and hidden meaning in the Shiva Nataraja. The statue portrays the Hindu god Shiva as a creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe modelled by Indian concept. He is known as the Lord of the Dance and in Sanskrit, Nata translates to dance and Raja means king. He dances the Tandava dance, or Dance of Bliss, which creates and destroys the universe. His bent knees and spread hair resemble the energy present in the Tandava dance. Shiva is holding a hand drum called the damaru in his upper right hand. This drum made the first sounds of creation and provides rhythm and the heartbeat of the universe. In his upper left hand, Shiva holds agni: the fire that will destroy the universe. Shiva’s lower right hand makes a gesture that calms fear, called the abhayamudra. His lower left hand, pointing to his raised foot, symbolizes salvation and liberation. His right foot standing on a dwarflike figure represents ignorance that leads mankind away from the correct path. He is enclosed by a circular ring of fire that represents time. It is circular because Hindus believe in a never-ending cycle of time that has no end. All of the symbols together show that salvation can be achieved if one believes in Shiva.

There were multiple statues made of Shiva and his family in different forms, but the Shiva Nataraja is the one that became the symbol of Chola power remembered today. The bronze sculptures are a reminder of the artistic, political and economic development in India during the Chola period.


Jonah Simon

“Stele with Vishnu and Lakshmi”

11th century CE

Arts of Asia — Hindu Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

Pictured: “Stele with Vishnu and Lakshmi” (11th century) — Arts of Asia, Hindu Gallery, Dallas Museum of Art.

This sculpture, titled “Stele with Vishnu and Lakshmi,” dates back to the 11th century CE and is believed to have come from the region of northern India now occupied by the provinces of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. This timeframe and location reveals that this piece of art likely came from the Gurjara-Pratihara Empire, which reigned in northern and northwestern India from the 8th to 11th centuries. The Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty were successors to the Vardhana dynasty, who in turn succeeded the great Gupta dynasty before them. The Gurjara-Pratiharans, then were the inheritors of the North Indian artistic tradition which had so flourished under Gupta patronage. For this reason, though this sculpture dates from centuries after the fall of the Guptas, it bears stylistic similarity to Gupta art, and can be considered a part of the Gupta-influenced artistic sculptural tradition.

The sculpture itself is fashioned from sandstone, and it appears to likely belong to the school of Gupta sculpture centered around the North Indian city of Mathura, which existed as a hotbed for the commission and production of religious art and sculpture (including Buddhist and Jain art as well as Hindu). The Mathuran style is notable for its heavy ornamentation of the figures (especially crowns and headdresses), presence of attendant and/or subservient deities, and a profusion of symbols associated with the depicted figures as well. Vishnu and Lakshmi both wear large, ornate crowns, indicative of their power and sovereignty over the universe. Vishnu, with his left arm holding Lakshmi tight in embrace, holds a mace in his left hand—a symbol of not only his strong kingship as the Preserver god, but also his willingness to wage war against his enemies, as if to say, “I have a weapon and I’m not afraid to use it.” Lakshmi, for her part, embraces Vishnu with one hand and holds a wheel with the other, perhaps representing the cyclical nature of the lifelong pursuit of success and wealth. Above them, there is a fish and a turtle, and the presence of these creatures is perhaps a reference to Vishnu’s status as the preserver and ruler over all life, human or otherwise.

The stele (a commemorative monument dedicated to the gods) depicts the god Vishnu and his goddess consort Lakshmi in an embrace. Beneath them is Garuda, the king of birds (who is often depicted both in bird form and in human form) who serves, among other roles, as the mount of Vishnu. Vishnu, known as “the Preserver,” forms one third of the foremost triad of powerful Hindu gods, along with Brahma the Creator and Shiva the Destroyer. Over the course of the Four Ages, Vishnu has repeatedly descended from his celestial estate to intervene against the enemies of his faithful, often taking the form of a human avatar (such as Rama, Krishna, and—for Vaishnavists—Buddha). Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu, is the goddess of success and prosperity. She forms a trinity of important goddesses in her own right with Saraswati (consort of Brahma) and Parvati (consort of Shiva). 


Gatlin Shore 

“Attendant of Vishnu with discus”

Artist n/a 

11th century 

Arts of Asia Collection 

Dallas Museum of Art 

Description: The Attendant of Vishnu with discus is a sandstone sculpture dated to the 11th century in India. It was once part out of the outside of a temple, which is why it is set into rock and made of sandstone, more a building material than something you would use for freestanding sculpture. This figure depicts a female in the typical style of the ideal Indian female, dressed in gaudy but light clothes with her top bare and a large head-dress.  She is depicting wearing lavish jewelry and holding a “chakra” or a wheel that is often associated as an attribute of the god Vishnu. 

 This figure bears close resemblance to sculptures found on the temples of Khajuraho in central India. The dating is done mostly by looking at this resemblance to Khajuraho temple sculptures, but specifically of the long-arched eyebrows present on the pictures which were common in the 11th century. It is thought that it was likely one of two such sculptures that would be found flanking a larger figure of the Hindu god Vishnu because this figure holds a wheel which is often associated with Vishnu. These four attributes are the wheel found here, chakra; the mace that would likely have been held by the opposite figure, gada; a lotus flower, Padma; and a conch shell, Sankha. The chakra depicting in this sculpture would have been thrown by Vishnu to behead his enemies and was a gift from the god Shiva. 

Origin: The temples where these sculptures can be found were built by the Rajput Chandela Dynasty in Khajuraho, Chhatarpur district, Madhya Pradesh, India. They were built as joint places of worship for Hinduism and Jainism and it is said that each king of the Chandela dynasty would end his rule by building at least one temple in the region, so perhaps the differing gods each temple is devoted to can be used to trace the religious beliefs of each individual king throughout that era and see which gods came into and out of prevalence in society. In this region there are dozens of temples built in this sandstone style and covered in sculpture depicting several different Hindu gods and many Jainist gods – depending on which temple you are at. The largest of these temples is Kandariya Mahadeo and is dedicated to the God Shiva. The sculpture “The Attendant of Vishnu with discus” could have originated at any of the eight temples dedicated to the god Vishnu.  

The Chandela Dynasty that built these temples and made this sculpture lasted from 835 CE to 1315 CE, and even at the end they were not defeated or thrown out but simply demoted to a lower tier of rulership. Truly a long and prosperous dynasty, the Chandela built many of the great temples found in central India. They were said to have been descendants of the sage Chandratreya, the son of the moon. While they were not the most powerful dynasty to have ruled over a portion of India, their lasting influence was certainly the temples they left behind.  


Michael Sullivan

Attendant of Vishnu with discus

11th Century

Arts of Asia – 306 Hindu Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

The Attendant of Vishnu with discus, is a statue made of sandstone in the 11th century and is credited to the Chandella dynasty.  The Chandella dynasty ruled over north central India from approximately 835 CE to 1315 CE.  The Chandellas came from the Kshatriya class, which is the second highest of the in status of the ritual castes.  Members of the Kshatriya class are traditionally the ruling and military class. The rulers of the Chandella dynasty were devout Hindus, however, the dynasty practiced religious tolerance evident from the Vaishnavist and Jainist temples dated around this time in the region.  It is assumed that The Attendant of Vishnu with discus would have been a decoration in a Hindu temple constructed by King Dhanga, who ruled over the Chandella empire around this time, due to its similarity to works at the Vishvanatha temple in the capital, Kahjuraho.  One defining feature of temples and art from the Chandella dynasty is the presence of eroticism in their works. Rulers in the Chandella empire felt a sense of duty to construct at least ten temples in their time on the thrown so it is likely that both the Vishvanatha temple, and the temple that The Attendant of Vishnu with discus statue was located were likely constructed under king Dhanga’s reign.  The Chandella dynasty often found itself in wars with invading Muslim groups.  It was under the rule of King Dhanga that the downfall of the Chandella dynasty began.  Dhanga, was an ally of king Jainpal of Punjab, who was defeated by the Muslim invaders leading to the relocation of the Chandella capital and the beginning of the end for the Chandella dynasty.

The Attendant of Vishnu with discus, depicts a male attendant holding one of Vishnu’s four primary objects, the wheel, or Chakra.  The figure is depicted with luxurious jewelry suggesting that he is associated with the gods or cosmic beings. Vishnu’s Chakra, is also known as the Wheel of Law, which symbolizes Vishnu’s breaking of the endless cycle of earthly life and death. It is likely that all four of Vishnu’s artifacts would have been present in the temple that the Attendant of Vishnu with discus was located. However, this attendant most likely would have been paired with a female attendant holding Vishnu’s mace, or Gada.  This is due to the fact that that the Chakra and Gada often accompany one another, flanking Vishnu in temples.  Vishnu’s Chakra was gifted to him by another Hindu god, Shiva, in order to defeat the Asuras.  This legend states that the Asuras, or demons, were tormenting the cosmic gods.  Due to this the cosmic gods went to Vishnu to help them vanquish the Asuras.  Vishnu himself could not defeat the Asuras so he went to Shiva seeking help.  When Vishnu came across Shiva he was in a deep meditative state.  Vishnu prayed to Shiva and brought him one thousand lotus flowers everyday until Shiva awakened from his slumber.  Upon awakening Shiva gifted the Chakra to Vishnu, using the Chakra Vishnu defeated the Asuras and saved the cosmic gods.



Stone Dreyer

Vishnu and Attendants

c. 1026 CE

Arts of Asia – Hindu Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

All credit is given to the Dallas Museum of Art on behalf of the image of Vishnu and Attendants

Vishnu and Attendants is a classic relief of the god Vishnu. The two leading deities of Hinduism were Vishnu, the Preserver, and Shiva, the Destroyer. Vishnu often appears though various avatars and incarnations. Here he is shown as a calm, upright figure surrounded by his heavenly court. He is surrounded by six figures, two of which are kneeling on either side of his feet. Most deities are thought to be supremely beautiful with their shapely bodies and fine facial features. This image of Vishnu is no exception. He is depicted as kingly, handsome, and benevolent, and is draped in jewels, as a king would be. In three of his four hands, he holds the traditional attributes of mace, conch shell, and sun wheel. The deep carving of the sandstone would have given the sculpture a strong play of light and shadow in its original setting as an architectural decoration. The attendant figures and animals form the setting of Vishnu’s divine kingdom.

The sculpture was created in the 11th century, in the Solanki dynasty. The Solanki dynasty ruled parts of what is now Gujarat and Kathiawar in India between 950-1300 CE. Gujarat was a major center of India Ocean trade, and its capital at Anhilwara (modern Patan, Gujarat) was one of the largest cities in India. The sculpture comes from the Sun Temple at Modhera, constructed under King Bhimdev I. The temple is a contemporary of Chola temples in the South and Chandela temples in the North. The temple is dedicated to the solar deity Surya, however, some corners and niches are decorated with figures of Vishnu and Shiva. There are also heavily carved pillars that have scenes from India’s most popular epics: the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Vishnu is the God of Preservation, the great maintainer who provides salvation for humanity. Vishnu can be identified by the attributes he holds in his four hands: the mace, the symbol of the notion of individual existence; the conch shell, the symbol of the sound of the origin of existence; and the sun wheel, the symbol of the cosmic mind and remainder of the wheel of time. However, the fourth attribute, a lotus flower, is not shown. Typically, the lotus flower is the symbol for eternity, prosperity, and purity, yet, in this case, Vishnu’s hand is out in a giving gesture. This is significant because one of Vishnu’s roles is the bringer of blessings and prosperity to his followers.




Raleigh Dewan

Relief of a male deity

Late 11th-12th Century

Arts of Asia – 306 Hindu Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

Picture from the Dallas Museum of Art


The sandstone Relief of a male deity depicts a dikpala, a doorway guardian, who protects a direction on a Hindu temple. In Hinduism, these dikpalas are deities known as the guardians of the directions who rule the specific areas of space. As a group of eight deities. they are called Aṣṭa-Dikpāla (अष्ट-दिक्पाल), literally meaning guardians of eight directions. They are often augmented with two extra deities for the ten directions (the two extra directions being zenith and nadir—also known as Brahma and Vishnu) when they are known as the Daśa-Dikpāla.


Historical Context:

Created during the late 11th/12th century, this relief represents an important time in the development of Hindu art and culture—especially temples. Some scholars believe this development began with the Gupta empire which started a movement of patronizing and advancing the arts and sciences during the fourth century, influencing development for the ongoing centuries.

With the Gupta era, these reliefs and portraits became much more common. The depicted regal characters of Gupta era art are often noted as classical, displaying an incredible sense of divinity via powerful, central figures. Of course, these figures were almost exclusively deities and kings wishing to position themselves as close to divinity as possible. Though the Huns brought about the end of the Gupta empire, the independent rulers under foreign kings still carried on the development of Hindu culture and arts. In Rajasthan, the independent principalities, whose rulers served Muslim overloads, still had a largely Hindu cultural life and continued the development of Hindu art and temples.

This was a critically important period of development for Hinduism and sacred texts like the Puranas demonstrate the wide-spread religious and metaphysical growth seen in the evolution of Indian temple architecture. Lots of this growth came from the politically powerful Brahmanic Hinduism, supported by rulers who commissioned expensive temples and patronized the arts. With the advancement from painted cave-temples like Ellora, free-standing temples devoted to various deities and rulers were constructed with ornate sculptures on the exterior walls.

While early Hindu temples like the Durga temple in the Deccan are small in scale, with the Gupta-inspired development and patronage temples grew exponentially in scale and lavishness. The great temples at Konarak and Bhubaneshwar display the increase in size and luxury in temple construction. This support came as kings and rulers wished to project their power and legacy while positioning themselves as close to divinity as possible in the role of a god-king.

As Hinduism flourished, so did its pantheon with numerous new deities added. With the expanding canon of Hinduism (the wonderful collections of myths and stories like in the Puranas), artists and temple builders had a divine bounty of material to draw from. Often times, new gods would gain prominence or older and lesser-known ones would step forward into the light. People would incorporate old gods into new roles, like zenith and nadir. These deities adorned the lavish temples and in the case of the dikapalas, they protected the temple and Hinduism.


Travis Peck

Durga Mahishasuramardini

12th Century

Arts of Asia – 306 Hindu Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

Pictured: “Durga Mahishasuramardini” (circa 12th century) from the Dallas Museum of Art’s Hindu Gallery

This sculpture depicts the woman goddess Durga, victorious over the buffalo demon Mahishasura. The story of Durga and Mahishasura is well known all throughout India. The tale tells of a buffalo demon, Mahishasura, who has conquered the physical world. All hope seemed lost as he set his gaze upon the realm of the gods. In fact, Mahishasura was blessed by Brahma, and he could not be killed by man nor animal. With a great lust for power, Mahishasura attacked the gods. Seeking to defend the world from the great buffalo demon, the gods called upon Vishnu for help in defeating the great demon. Vishnu then created a woman who would be able to defeat the great buffalo demon. Since the great demon was immune to any attack from man, animal, or god, this new woman would bring hope to the heavenly and earthly realms. The woman was named Durga, and was created as a goddess as well. When Mahishasura heard of this new goddess, he thought it to be impossible that he could be defeated by a woman. He then proposed a marriage with the powerful new goddess, to secure his grip on the heavenly and earthly realms. Durga rejected his proposal. Upon hearing about his rejected proposal, a great battle then ensued between the new warrior goddess Durga and the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura. The battle was destructive, but ultimately concluded in the buffalo demon being destroyed by the goddess Durga through a swift piercing of her godly weapons. The buffalo demon’s head was decapitated, and order was restored throughout the heavenly and earthly realms. Durga ultimately was granted the ability to defeat the demon, because she is a goddess, neither man nor animal.

Every year, there is a celebration called Durga Puja throughout eastern India that celebrates the victory that the goddess Durga had over the buffalo demon. This celebration begins on the same day as Navratri, another celebration that worships the divine feminine in the Hindu religion. These celebrations coincide because of the femininity of Durga, and the fact that a woman goddess was able to defeat Mahishasura due to her femininity. These celebrations in eastern India worship the goddess Durga and her various forms, as well as her victory over the buffalo demon king.

This statue is thought to date all the way back to the 12th century.  The sculpture is widely believed to be found in the eastern region of India, Bengal, because of the wide worship of the divine feminine in that region. The sculpture shows the powerful goddess Durga wielding her various godly weapons, in the moment that she defeats Mahishasura. She is standing victoriously over the buffalo demon and his warriors. The sculpture tries to define her femininity through the goddess’ curves and womanly figure. The sculpture is made of Phyllite and dates back to the era of the Pala Dynasty. Many other sculptures and artworks depicting Durga have been found in the same eastern region of India.


Bibiana Schindler

The Dancing Figure

Approx. 12th-13thCentury

Arts of Asia – Hindu Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

Pictured: “The Dancing Figure” (circa 12th or 13th century) from the Dallas Museum of Art’s Hindu Gallery


The Dancing Figure is one of numerous works of art housed in the Dallas Museum of Art’s Hindu Gallery. The piece is a marble sculpture from a Jain Temple, most likely from Mount Abu in the Northern state of Rajasthan in India. One cannot date the exact year or century of the sculpture’s creation, but some parts of the carving indicates the 13thcentury. The Dancing Figure’s angled features and oversized hands point this. The Dancing Figure is a woman adorned in necklaces and earrings and bracelets. Although merely a sculpture, the Dancing Figure looks very much alive with her body contorted in mid-dance.

Mount Abu is famous for its Hindu and Jain temples. Its impressive cluster of temples reflects and preserves the ideas of Jainism. Jain temples with marble sculptures such as these reflect the wealth of some followers of Jainism who contributed to the construction of these temples in the 11th-13thcenturies. Although simple on the outside, these temples house rich, ornate details within their doors. The Dilwara Temples are a set of five temples dedicated to Jainism and it is a pilgrimage site for many Jains. Here in the temples, one can find many more dancing-girl sculptures, sealed in time with white chiseled marble. Most of these sculptures are located in what is now referred to as the “dancing pavilion.”

If one examines the movement and costume of the dancer in greater depth, details come to light that help explain aspects of Jainism. First, we see her movement, which is life-like, paused mid-action. She lifts one leg, adjusting the bells on her anklet with her hand. Dance is an important part of Indian and Jainism culture. Music and dance have become a part of worship, occurring alongside prayer. There were even dancing halls in the temples on Mount Abu. The bells that the Dancing Figure wore would accentuate her movement with rhythmic sound. It is not certain what role the Dancing Figure plays in the religious history of Jainism, but there are many celestial dancers who celebrate the jinas. The jinas are the twenty-four liberated souls who members of the Jain faith worship.

The Dancing Figure’s femininity also plays an important role in highlighting the history of Indian civilization. Women in the 11th-13thcentury, especially in Jainism, were accomplished in song and dance. These temple girl statues show the value of women in religious life through their presence in holy places such as the temples of Mount Abu. The Dancing Figure herself is a vision of femininity and sensuality.

Although we cannot be certain on the date of the Dancing Figure’s creation, the insight that she offers into religious history in India shows a unique perspective of Indian life. We see the intersection between the caste system, gender, and religion play out through the art in Jain temples on Mount Abu. Much information about the Dancing Figure must be inferred from other objects and sources around her, but what we do know illuminates aspects of Jainism.



Pictured: “Kalpavriksha” (15th century) from the Dallas Museum of Art’s Hindu Collection


Colin Payne

Kalpavriksha Tree

15th Century

Hindu Collection in the DMA

Dallas Museum of Art

Description: The Kaplavriksha tree in the photograph is made of brass and is surrounded by depictions of women in different poses. Each woman is connected to the tree by a branch with leaves. At the top of the tree, there seems to be a circular flower-like object with smaller circles toward the center, almost as if it was radiating. 

Historical Context: The Kalpavriksha tree is very reminiscent of the Baobab tree has been around for a long time and is theorized to be a tree that sustained the first people who migrated to southeast Asia. This particular sculpture was made of brass and commissioned in the 15th century. While the rulers of India at the time were Muslim, the primarily Hindu population was still very influenced by their Vedic predecessors and Hindu culture still dominated India. Trees with mythical properties can be seen in many cultures all over the world and date back farther than history. For example, Yggdrasil, the world tree, in Norse mythology links all the worlds together and allows for greater beings to travel between said worlds. It is common for trees to show up in mythology after all trees are crucial to survival and humans would not survive without them. Worshipping trees is understandably very common for early people as they could not survive without them. This tree is no different. When looking at the Baobab tree’s life-giving properties it is easy to understand why this tree was valued over all the other trees at the time. For starters, it is an evergreen and doesn’t lose its leaves in the fall, continuing to provide shelter and nutrients year-round. The Kalpavriksha leaves have many nutrients needed for survival and while a human cannot sustain themselves on the leaves alone, it can be a good supplement. The leaves contain Calcium and multiple vitamins that the body needs to survive. The leaves also contain 6 of the 8 amino acids needed by humans. The tree originates from Africa but is believed to be brought around the fourth or fifth century by Arab slaves or soldiers. The tree has been shown to have importance in Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Based on these facts it is easy to assume that the Kalpavriksha tree was essential to the early Hindu people and earned its mythical status by providing life to the people of the region. 

Mythology: The story behind this particular tree and its significance to the Indian people lies within Hindu mythology like most other significant objects. At the churning of the ocean, the tree was born along with Kamadhenu, the wish giving cow. Shiva upon finding the tree brought it to heaven and planted it there. There are five different Kalpavrikshas and each one granted different wishes to the gods. According to Jainism, there are ten different types of Kalpavriksha trees that grant different wishes. Some of these wishes include food, drink, music, light, shelter, wealth, etc. When the demons grew jealous over the trees they waged war against the Deva. The tree is guarded by Kinnara and Kinnari, flying mythical creatures charged with protecting the wishing tree in heaven. The original mythical tree is said to be made of pure gold and is a royal emblem in the Sanskrit work Mānāsara. There is one Kalpavriksh tree planted in the Himalayas that is well kept and guarded by armed guards and a wire fence. 


Tyler Madding

Chess Piece

Late 18th–early 19th century

303 Islamic Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

Pictured: Chess Piece (late 18th – early 19th century) from the Dallas Museum of Art’s Hindu Art during the Mughal Period Collection

Description: This elaborately decorated chess piece is dated between the late 18th and early 19th century and is carved out of precious ivory and then painted. This piece would have been the king of this chess set, owned by a wealthy elite from the Mughal Empire. The elephant is being ridden by a mahout, or elephant handler, and has a riding platform with two individuals on top. It can be inferred that these men are Sikhs due to their turbans having a bump to leave room for a hair bun.

Historical Context: The Indian elephant has long been a symbol of India itself, present in Hindu mythology with gods, such as Ganesh having the head of an elephant. Elephants were integral to the politics and the economics of southern and south eastern India, being used as gifts to leaders, used in warfare, or used in transportation. Riding an elephant, however, is nothing like riding a horse and requires a strong bond with the elephant in order to go anywhere. The elephant handler or mahout is generally a family job and the mahout start training as a boy, being given a young elephant to bond with. The mahout grows up with the elephant and then begins riding the elephant once it is old enough, usually transporting people or things or working other jobs on the side to make a living. Traveling via elephant was usually reserved for the wealthy elites and leaders of India, often being gifted elephants with a mahout and fitting them with elaborate platforms in order to ride in comfort and style. Elephants can also travel very long distances making them very useful for kings and other elite to travel across India with more ease. Due to their sheer size and endurance, elephants have also been used in warfare throughout Indian history. Riders would use long spears or axes as weapons and could use the elephant to run down groups of soldiers and, due to their large size and thick skin, are very hard to kill with the weapons of the era.

Symbology: This chess piece represents the king of this chess set and the figures on top look as though they are elite or possibly royalty, reflecting the more comfortable life of the elite in Moghul India. The elephant has long been utilized by the elite of Indian history and has been used as a symbol for economic and political power. The Hindu god Ganesh, who has the head of an elephant, is generally worshipped before any business enterprise and is the patron of bankers, authors, scribes, and intellectuals, generally more upper class in Indian culture. Notably, the riders on the elephant are wearing traditionally Sikh attire, with special turbans that allow for a hair bun to fit underneath, Sikhs are admonished from cutting their hair, so they put their hair in a bun and wear the turban on top. Sikhism was founded in the 15th century and combines many Muslim and Hindu beliefs. Sikhs in this era were associated with having very good martial arts skills were known for their ability in combat. The inclusion of Sikhs as the riders could reflect this stereotype of Sikhs as warriors, due to chess being a war game.

William Haab

“Necklace with Pendant of Ganesha”

19th Century

Arts of Asia – 304 SNAIL GALLERY

Dallas Museum of Art

(***Image Courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art***)

Details: “The Necklace with Pendant of Ganesha” is a gold and ruby ornament that was created 12 x 6 7/8 x 5/ in in dimension. This beautiful work of art has a detailed neck band that connects to a golden elephant head that represents Ganesha. Within the gold elephant’s head are 2 ruby stones to portray the eyes of the figure. Throughout the neck band, there are small engravings that surround the piece, as well as outline the ruby eyes. Also around the neck band are 7 slits in the gold with a clasp in the back. 

Background: The object that I chose is a one of a kind, gold and ruby necklace with pendant of Ganesha, one of the most significant Hindu Deities. Ganesha, also known as Ganapati, is the “Lord of the People”, and also referred to as the god of new beginnings. The legend says that Parvati, Shiva’s wife, was taking a bath in her home on Mt. Kailash; however, she did not want to be disturbed, so she used her husbands bull, Nandi, for protection. With respect to its owner, Nandi welcomed Shiva into his house and disturbed Pavarti during her bath. After this experience, Pavarti wanted a loyal partner that respected her like Nandi respected Shiva, so she created a powerful, devoted son to guard her door. When Shiva came home, he was blocked from gaining entry and became furious. He sent his army to destroy the boy, but Ganesha was extremely powerful and was not able to be defeated. The elephant-headed god was portrayed through this detailed necklace of stylistic gold and bright ruby’s. 

Historical Context: After doing research on spiritual jewelry from early civilization India, I found the necklace with pendant of Ganesha to be most likely related to the Indus Valley Civilization due to its characteristics and role in history. Gold jewelry with unique stones were often found in the Indus Valley Civilization and many of them had imagery that reflected on gods and goddesses. On the necklace, the viewer can see the head-on angle of a flat elephants head. In ancient India, the elephants head in art depicted wisdom and intelligence and was often seen on jewelry from early civilization India. According to the Dallas Museum of Art, this particular necklace was most likely a gift for to a temple to be offered to a statue of Pavarti. People would give gold jewelry and stones to shrines and statues as offerings for the God’s help and service in life.

“The Necklace with Pendant of Ganesha” in the Dallas Museum of Art is a great example of the intense artistry and precision, while also capturing the significance of godly figures during early civilization of India. This special piece of jewelry helps remember a significant figure in Hindu culture through original craftsmanship and unique resources. 


Deziray Merendoni

“Elephant-headed bangle”

19th Century

Arts of Asia – Islamic Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art

Elephant-headed bangle” picture is part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s Arts of Asia collection in the Islamic Gallery.


This is an elephant-head bangle, a piece of Indian jewelry, from the 19th century. It is a thick enameled bracelet or bangle with vibrant pink, green, and white hues, which follow an intricately carved flower design on both the inside and outside of the bangle. The pink hues suggesting the bangle was likely made in Varanasi (northern India) because Varanasi is “famous for its pink enameled hues.” This bangle features two intertwined elephant heads at the base of the clasp and is adorned with precious gemstones and materials including: diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds, amethyst, carnelian, and other rare materials in this gold enameled bangle. While these gemstones are often uncut in this style of bangle, the ones features in this elephant-headed bangle are clearly polished which is another level of intricacy associated with this bangle. These bracelets were worn by Indian women, multiple at a time. The elephant heads are another status marker because they symbolized auspiciousness or wealth/prosperity. Each bangle required an entire team to create which included: a designer, a goldsmith, an engraver, an enameler, a polisher, a stone setter, and possibly a stringer. This all adds to the symbol of wealth this bangle represents, as it was not easily attained or created.

Historical Context:

This elephant-headed bangle was created in the 19th century following the style of bracelet, Kada (a thick enameled bracelet) which has been popular in India since the 16th century. It can be inferred that the bangle was made in Varanasi, India because of the special pink enameled hues unique to Varanasi. Varanasi is a city in northern India of Hindu religion, located near the Ganges river. Varanasi is known for its artistic productions such as silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculptures. These bangles were complex to create, first the enamel was carved, then the gemstones were set by fire, the process requiring an entire team to assemble.

These bangles held two meanings, religious beliefs and social status. Varanasi, being a city of Aryan culture, followed a caste system which separated Indians from birth into different social classes with specifically designated jobs and rules define to maintain their distinct positions in hierarchy. This bangle made of gold enamel and fine gemstones, represented the status of someone of a higher position in the hierarchy, but was created by workmen of lower position. In India a person’s position on the hierarchy was more representative of their power than government. Again the power of the elephant symbol is seen in 4th century BCE when Alexander of Macedon (north India) used animals that became known in ancient warfare, specifically elephants which were reserved for the most elite warriors. This bangle also has possible religious interpretations by the two intertwined elephant heads featured on the clasp, this has a connection to Shiva the “Lord of Beasts,” a Hindu god. Ganesha, the son of Shiva, is represented as an “elephant-headed god who rides the mouse, [and] is the remover of obstacles…” Shiva was one of the two main gods worshipped by the Aryans of the Indus Civilization and is potentially another connection to Varanasi origins. 


Gunnar Mebius

Ten-Armed Durga Slaying the Demon Mahisha

12th-14th Century.

Arts of Asia – 304 SNAIL GALLERY

Dallas Museum of Art


**Photograph is part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection

Description: The Ten-Armed Durga Slaying the Demon Mahisha is a cast bronze 8 11/16 x 5 11/16 x 3 5/16 in sculpture of the goddess Durga mounted atop her lion stabbing the demon Mahisha. Mahisha who had the ability to assume the form of a buffalo now emerges in his anthropomorphic form to be stabbed by Durga. The dead body of the buffalo lies behind Mahisha. The sculpture probably comes from the northern state of Himachal Pradesh where similar metal sculptures were made from the 12th to 16th centuries.

Mythology: Durga is a principal Goddess in Hinduism also known as Devi or Shakti. According to legend, she was created by Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the lesser gods with their collective energy for the purpose of slaying the demon Mahisha (who was more powerful than the rest of them). It is because of thus reason that Durga is grater than any of them and is usually depicted with 8 or 10 arms each holding one special weapon of the gods, riding a lion or tiger. The Durga Puja around September-October is held in her honor annually. Durga is perhaps the most important aspect of Shaktism, one of the major forms of Hinduism. In Shaktism, Shakti (cosmic energy) is personified in Devi (the feminine nature of God). This includes many goddesses (Durga among them), all considered aspects of the same supreme goddess.

Historical Context: Durga originated from the non-Aryan people of India, she became popular until the early centuries CE which can be seen in hymns praising her in the Mahabharata. It is not until around the 4th century where images of Durga killing the buffalo demon Mahisha became common throughout India. She is also present in the Ramayana, helping Rama defeat Ravana.

The bronze sculpture can be narrowed down to Northern India because of two main points: Firstly, that the sculpture is a bronze sculpture itself. The Lost wax technique has been a part of India since the Indus Valley Civilization (“The Dancing Girl” of Mohenjo-Daro) and was continued in the Maurya Empire with bronze sculptures of The Buddha. Secondly, that it is a depiction of Durga. This can narrow down the sculpture to Northern India yet again, where Shaktism is more popular. It can be narrowed down to the 12th-14th century simply because that era represents the period after the decline of Buddhism in India and precedes the Mughal Empire. Whether the sculpture was cast in the Ghaznavid, Ghori or Delhi Sultanate is not exactly clear. An educated guess would be that it was during the Delhi Sultanate.


Tabitha Brown


Unknown Artist

1820 CE – 1860 CE

303 Islamic Gallery

Dallas Museum of Art 

*All credit is given to the Dallas Museum of Art on behalf of the image and information on the necklace. Figure is also positioned to the left, as seen above.*

This ornate necklace is dated in the nineteenth century between the years 1820 to 1860, discovered in the eastern Tamil Nadu state, Thanjavur. This necklace is connected to the ancient tradition of Bharaatanatyan, a south Indian spiritual dance that originated in the location of Tamil Nadu. 

Upon closer examination, this well-preserved piece of jewelry resembles many other traditional south Indian artifacts, making it relatively easy to trace the object’s roots—made from expensive materials such as gold, pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. This intricate piece of art is stunning to the eye. The pearls and gold that line around the neck, to the two peacocks disguised by jewels, hidden imagery, and meaning, may surpass the mind at first glance.

Known as the Linga Padakka Muthu Malai, or a garland of pearls with a Lingam pendant. What is known as the Lingam (the central area of the necklace) pictures Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism, including two peacocks, which is then followed by a hanging lotus flower. These sacred and complex figures convey meaning to the purpose of Bharaatanatyan, and why the dancers would wear such important symbols on their bodies.

Beginning with the neckline, the rows of pearls and gold in the times of ancient India were said to have prevented misfortune to those around them. So by encompassing the neck of the dancer, not only were the dancers protected, but the kings and men they performed for were also protected. Peacocks, often seen in ancient Indian folklore and mythology, were known to symbolize grace, pride, and beauty. Besides being beautiful, the lotus flower symbolized rebirth, purity, and enlightenment. These three symbols, although common throughout the Hindu religion, established the importance of the traditional dances. However, the jewels were not only for adornment but were also seen as stones with mystical qualities to protect against evil forces. The women who initially performed the sacred dance Bharatantyam were both highly trained and educated. Dedicating their lives to the deities, and were therefore never allowed to marry.

Tracing back to the Indus Valley Civilization, to the great epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the Arthasastra, writings of the magnificent Indian jewels and intricate pieces of wearable art have always been a part of Indian culture. Continuing to the times of Mogul rule, this “Mughal-style” long necklace resembles the long tradition of spiritually related jewelry. Jewelry would later become a way for women to hold onto as an investment, or using the expensive piece as a form of financial security in hard times. However, jewelry, in many ways, is a way for man to achieve perfection, for repetition, symmetry, and ordered progression in design resembles the belief of R’ta, the order of the cosmic universe. This necklace holds much more history and meaning to the Indian people upon further examination, bringing more appreciation towards ancient Indian culture and beliefs through the use of jewelry. 

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