Home > Cultural Informatics > Visvarupa > The Visvarupa Iconographic Traditions - The Archaeological Reports of Professor T. S. Maxwell


Vaikuṇṭha-Viśvarūpa Vol. IV



Februar 1994 - Marz 1995

DFG-Az.: Ma 1069/3-3

Kennowrt: Vaikuṇṭha-Viśvarūpa

Fortsetzung der Berichte an die D.F.G.

Von 30.06.1990, 30.07.1992, 14.01.1994




T. S. Maxwell


die hier verwendeten, zum Teil uberarbeiteten Landkarten stammen aus J.,E. Schwartzberg (ed.), An Historical Atlas of South Asia, Chicago and London 1978 und s. Muthiah (ed.), An Atlas of India, Delhi 1990.


Alle Rechte der Vervielfaltigung und Weiterverwendung des

Inhaltes dieses kataloges sind dem Verfasser vorbehalten

Copyright (c) T. S. Maxwell 1994, 1995



Stein: 129 x 71 x 34; Viṣṇu H. 65; Garuḍa H. 44

ursprunglich 14 Hande

Bilhari (Puspavati), Madhya Pradesh




In Later Kalacuri inscriptions Bilhari, in the Jabalpur /District of Madhya Pradesh, in the Baghelkhand region, was known as Puspavati; it possessed temples, at least one large mater reservoir, and a fort, which was destroyed during the Mutiny in 1857. The area is famous for the quality of its stone; Puspavati probably supplied the stone for the temples and sculptures of the Later Kalacuri capital, Tripuri (modern Tevar) on the Narmadā.

The Viṣṇu-Varāha temple at Puspavati / Bilhari appears to date to about the 17th century. It was erected on the site of the Later Kalacuri Nohalesvara temple which was erected by Nohala, the wife of Yuvarajadeva I Kalacuri, in the 10th century. A considerable quantity of Later Kalacuri sculpture was found in the sanctum of this temple, built into its front walls, in its mukhamandapa, and on and around the courtyard; fragments probably from the Nohalesvara temple and from other Later Kalacuri structures were found scattered throughout the village, some of them under worship on square earthen or stone platforms. Smaller quantities of archaeological material of similar date were found at the nearby temple complex of Gaya Kund, and also at Kuan, where a reported Vaikuṇṭha image has apparently been stolen recently, along with a number of other ancient pieces according to the villagers, and where now stray archaeological fragments are in the process of being cemented into the side-walls of a renovated step-well.


The present sculpture, a major cult image, is the only example of multiheaded Viṣṇu discovered during two explorations of the south-eastern Baghelkhand area, which were extended from Bilhari as far as Gaya Kund, Kuan, Rupnath. Tigowa, the Vaiṣṇava site of Sindursi, Majholi, Tevar (the wreck of the Kalacuri capital, Tripuri) and Bheraghat. The sculpture stands on the southern edge of the precinct in front of the Viṣṇu-Varāha (Nohalesvara) temple, approximately 200 meters west of the main village water reservoir, the Laksman-Sagar, which also dates from Later Kalacuri times.


The image appears as a relief on a rectangular stele which is not pierced at any point. The upper quarter of the stele is diagonally broken off on the observer's left, as are all the extended hands of the main figure. The two principal figures comprising the image, Garuḍa and Viṣṇu, appear above a prominent rectangular projection of the plinth, which is otherwise very narrow. The sculpture as a whole has suffered both erosion and breakage.

Figures on the plinth

A kneeling figure with hands joined in the namaskāramudrā appears on each of the narrow sides of the plinth, with a second figure, evidently a ṛṣi or sadhu, standing behind with hands similarly) joined. A third diminutive figure, with one hand resting on the thigh and the other holding an indistinct object, stands beside and partly behind each side of the central projecting plinth, leaning out to the side. Behind this group of three stands a taller female figure on either side, also leaning out to the side. In the remaining top right corner of the stele (facing) are the remains of a flying garland-bearer.


On the main central plinth Garuḍa appears as a fully- anthropomorphic figure, depicted in a wide and vigorous flying posture facing proper left. The front (left) leg is in a kneeling position (the lower leg from knee to ankle is broken off), while the trailing right leg is bent up perpendicularly. The left arm is raised from the elbow with the fingertips of the hand lightly supporting Viṣṇu's folded left leg. The right arm, extended backwards, is broken off at the elbow. A pointed loincloth hangs below the belly, reaching to the surface of the plinth. A jewelled girdle and thigh-tassels can be seen, in addition to an ornamented upavita, necklace, armlets and bracelets. Garuḍa also wears a two-strand udarabandha. His face is tilted up so that the right ear touches his shoulder and his hair streams backwards.

The main figure

Viṣṇu is seated in lalitāsana, with the left leg folded, supported beneath the knee by Garuḍa's raised left hand, the foot resting sole-upward behind Garuḍa's head. The right leg is broken off above the knee. The torso and head are held in an upright frontal posture. The vanamālā curves around the left shoulder, across the crook of the front left arm, and hangs forward across the left thigh and ankle. The jewelled upavita is as thick as the garland and loops below the jewelled girdle on the right. There are two necklaces, a broad circular torque and below it a longer and narrower necklace forming a curved V-shape in the centre of the chest. On the chest between them appears the diamond-shaped kaustubha or srivatsa. The kuṇḍalas are long and narrow. The crown, with traces of curls below the rim on the left side, was a kirītā with vertical pearlstrings; it is non severely damaged. Behind the head is a relatively small circular lotus-nimbus, slightly inset into the surface of the stele. The face, broader than usual in this region, shows the high arched eyebrows and enigmatic expression typical of Later Kalacuri sculpture. The eyes are half-closed. The total number of arms was originally fourteen (as in the Solaṅkī images of Gujarat), as can be seen from the remains of seven on the left. The heads of Narasiṃha (right) and Varāha (right) appear as profiles on either side of the central face. These animal profiles, rendered in very flat relief, both slope downward above the shoulders (as in Kashmiri and Candella images of Vaikuṇṭha). They are not shown wearing crowns; the relief is continued diagonally upward, above a lightly incised headband, to the sides of Viṣṇu's crown, and this relief cuts across the base of the nimbus, but it bears no definite trace of a crown. Both the flatness of the relief and the merely suggested crowns -- apparently incomplete versions of the karanda crowns worn by the animal side-heads of the Candella and Solaṅkī Vaikuṇṭhas -- suggest that this iconography was known but only partially understood in the Later Kalacuri territories.


The incomplete sloping side-crowns, the fourteen arms, and the presence of anthropomorphic Garuḍa, all suggest that the Solaṅkī concept of Vaikuṇṭha was the immediate model for the iconography of this image, rather than the Candella concept. This implies long-distance political and cultural contact westward with north-eastern Gujarat, along the northern bank of the Narmadā from Puspavati via Tripuri, more than northwestward with the contiguously situated Bundelkand, where Vaikuṇṭha was typically a standing image and where the fourteen-armed Garuḍa-mounted Vaikuṇṭha was unknown. The reasons for this curious state of affairs is examined below in paragraph 01.1.1


This is the south-easternmost Vaikuṇṭha image so far discovered, being situated at Puspavati (Bilhari) fairly near the Narmadā, only 60km north of the Kalacuri capital, Tripuri. No Vaikuṇṭhas are definitely known in the eastern part of Baghelkhand, where, on the contrary, variant versions of the Viśvarūpa icon are known (from Antara, Shahdol District: see Nos.2 and 4 in this Report).

The Vaikuṇṭha cult was thus introduced into the eastern part of the Later kalacuri kingdom, near (and presumably in) the seat of political power, Tripuri (south of Khajuraho); while in the eastern part of the kingdom, at Antara near Shahdol (south of Allahabad), it was the older imperial icon of Viśvarūpa, stemming from the declining Gurjara-Pratihāra territories on the Ganges to the north, which was known.

Thus in the kalacuri kingdom of the 10th/11th century, the boundary between the Vaikuṇṭha and Viśvarūpa cults respectively ran north-south between Tripuri and Puspavati on the west, and Antara and Shahdol on the east. The political and iconographic connexions of the capital were with Khajuraho in the north and Gujarat in the west (where the Vaikuṇṭha cult flourished); the connexions of the eastern territories were with the easterly vestiges of the Pratihāra empire in the north and the Pala kingdom to the east and north-east (where other Viśvarūpa variants are known. from Badgaon-Nalanda and Panchbethair-Tangail, near Dhaka).

The iconographic similarities between the Puspavati (Bilhari) Vaikuṇṭha and Solaṅkī versions in Gujarat (rather than with the much closer Candella Vaikuṇṭha) poses questions of political and cult contact over a considerable distance, and across a zone of some instability (T. S. Maxwell. Bericht an die DFG vom 14.01.1994: S.xv-xvi, exclusion zone in southern Malwa). The clear implication of the iconography of the Puspavati (Bilhari) Vaikuṇṭha is that an east-west axis existed between Gujarat north of the head of the Gulf of Khambat, and eastward along the Narmadā as far as Tripuri.

The political (and religious) nature of this axis is revealed in the inscriptions of the Kalacuri Kings of Tripuri (Yuvaraja I, Laksmanaraja, and Yuvaraja II) in the 10th and 11th centuries. The most significant of the inscriptions comes from Bilhari itself.

The Bilhari inscription (EI.II:132, undated, late 10th or early 11th century according to Kielhorn) mentions Yuvaraja I Kalacuri entering Lata (= Saurastra), and also his son, Laksmanaraja, having marched to the "western region", where he had his troops bathe in the sea, before worshipping Somesvara (=Somanatha-Patan) (EI.I:268); and the Gorwa grant of Laskmikarna credits Laksmanaraja with conquering, among other territories, Lata and Gurjara (EI.XI:142).

The official Later kalacuri genealogies trace the descent of the dynasty from Viṣṇu, though most of the surviving inscriptions relate to Śiva, whose worship would have represented the official royal cult. This is a not untypical religious configuration which is parallelled in Kashmir. Exceptionally, Laksmanaraja's son Sankaragana, who appears to have reigned very briefly in the late 10th century, is said to have been principally devoted to Viṣṇu ("vaisnavaparama": DHNI.II: 768).

Ray (DHNI.II: 764-765) shows that, between AD 950 and 1000, the period accepted for the reigns of both Yuvaraja I and Laksmanaraja Kalacuri, "great confusion prevailed" in Gujarat: Saurastra (Lata) was held by the Silaharas (feudatories of the Rastrakutas), while northern Gujarat (Gurjara) was still under the weakening control of the Gurjara-Pratīhāras of Kanauj, against whom the first Solaṅkī, Mularaja Caulukya, was engaged in a war. Under these conditions of internal weakness and instability in Gujarat, a westward policy on the part of the Later Kalacuris, initiated by Yuvaraja I and continued with more force by his son Laksmanaraja, resulted in a virtual tradition of royal kalacuri contact with the famous Somanatha temple. The policy, and the tradition, was continued into the late 10th and possibly the early 11th century by Yuvaraja II, who, according to the karanbel (= Karnavati, near Tripuri) inscription (IA.XVIII: 215-216: DHNI.II.768-769, 782) dedicated his wealth to the holy Somesvara.

This westward invasion route, which was clearly very well known to the Kalacuris through their continuous policy of expansion, must have led from Tripuri along the Narmadā (involving protracted hostilities along the way with the Paramaras of Dhār: DHNI.II: 769; the repeated inroads of the Kalacuris between Dhār and the Narmadā en route to Gujarat could well account for the absence of a Paramara Vaikuṇṭha cult in southern Malwa) to the west coast, and around the Gulf of Khambat to the coast of Saurastra. The iconography and cult of Vaikuṇṭha were well known both in Malwa and in Gujarat, in the kingdoms of both the Paramaras and the Solaṅkīs across which territories this westward route to Somanatha lay. Paramara Vaikuṇṭha images from Hinglajgadh and Pippaliya-Jatti are preserved at Indore and Bhanpura (T. S. Maxwell. Bericht an die DFG vom 14.01.1994: S.ix, xii-xvi, 203-206, 246-B-250 [Sculpture Nos.56 and 66]), locations which are in north-western Malwa and somewhat remote from the course of the Narmadā: whereas among the many surviving Solaṅkī images of Garuḍa-mounted Vaikuṇṭha, one is still to be found at the Varāha temple at Kadvar, only a few kilometres from Somanatha itself (T. S. Maxwell, Bericht an die DFG vom 14.01.1994: S.x-xvi, 287-290 [Sculpture No.79]).

Thus the connexion between Puspavati/Tripuri and Kadvar / Somanatha consisted of a traditional westward invasion-route, sanctified by worship at the Somanatha temple which marked the destination of the expedition, established by the Later Kalacuris as part of their expansion policy in the latter half of the 10th century and continued into the 11th century by a succession of kings. The Vaikuṇṭha cult does not appear to have played a highly significant role in the Kalacuri kingdom (as noted above, the kings were chiefly connected with Saivism and with the Śaiva Mattamayuraka sect), unless under the Vaiṣṇava king Sankaragana, who briefly succeeded his father Laksmanaraja, whose name is still preserved today at Bilhari (Puspavati) in the name of the water reservoir near the Viṣṇu-Varāha (Nohalesvara) temple, the Laksman-kund.

The iconography of the Puspavati (Bilhari) Vaikuṇṭha would have been copied from Vaikuṇṭha images seen by the retinue of the royal Kalacuri forces in Gujarat, and it is thus historically related to the Solaṅkī Vaikuṇṭha images, and particularly to the Vaikuṇṭha at Kadvar near Somanatha.


The sculpture is a cult-image representing the Later Kalacuri version of Garuḍa-mounted Vaikuṇṭha, with fourteen arms, in Kalacuri style, but its iconography is based on that of a Solaṅkī model of the early 11th century from the vicinity of Somanatha-Patan, probably Kadvar. Made at Puspavati (Bilhari) most probably in the reign of Sankaragana, Yuvaraja II (ca. AD 974), Kokalla II, or Gangeya ('Vikramaditya') Kalacuri (ca. AD 1030- 1041).




CIRCA A.D. 975


With the probable westward invasion route

of the Kalacuris of Tripuri


(after Ray DHNI.II: Maps 2-5 and Schwartzberg HASA: Maps 31.32,146,147)



Stein: 60 x 32 x 18

ursprunglich 12 Hande

Aus Antnra, Shahdol District, Madhya Pradesh (BiMBh Depot)


The sculpture was discovered at Antara, approximately 10 km from Shahdol, the District headquarters. It is now preserved in the reserve collection of the Birla Museum in Bhopal, where permission to photograph it was refused.

The piece consists of a rectangular stele of dark stone, broken at the top, with a relief figure of Viṣṇu, which originally had the five heads of Viśvarūpa of which the upper two are damaged. The original disposition of the heads was:

Matsya Kūrma

Narasiṃha Varāha.

The Narasiṃha and Varāha profiles are abbreviated, being crammed up against two of the hand-held attributes, the khaḍga and ghanta.

The original number of arms appears to have been twelve, though these as well as the remaining attributes are damaged. The Attributes that can still be partially identified are following:

padma(?) ghanta
khaḍga kheṭaka
talwar (curved sword) khaḍga (?)
padma(?) dhanus/sarpa (?)
-- -- śaṅkha
-- -- -- --

A standing female figure can be seen at the lower left corner, and the head of another figure (the remainder of it destroyed) at the lower right. There are no other figures on the remains of the stele apart from the main Viṣṇu.


This appears to be a late figure, of the 11th century, from the eastern part of the Late Kalacuri kingdom. In view of the number of heads, it was a form of Viśvarūpa, apparently with fewer, if any, emanating figures. It was thus probably related to the late Viśvarūpa variant from Badgaon / Nalanda in Bihar (see T. S. Maxwell, Bericht an die DFG vom 30.07.1992: pp.224-227) and derived from the late Viśvarūpa images from the eastern end of the Gurjara Pratihāra empire.

Nr. 02: Antara

Birla Museum, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

(Fotografie nicht erlaubt)


Stein: 93 x 50 x 26; Viṣṇu H. 58

ursprunglich 10 Hande

Aus Gurgi, Rewa District, Madhya Pradesh (BaMRe #154)


The piece was found at Gurgi, and belongs to the archaeological collection of His Highness Maharaja Martand Singh Ju Deo, which now forms part of the content of the Baghela Museum in Rewa.

The sculpture, in buff sandstone, consists of a thick rectangular stele with a dvi-anga base supporting an image of Viṣṇu and Accompanying figures in high relief, with other figures sculpted in lower relief on the base and the face of the stele.

The main figure

The figure of Viṣṇu, originally ten-armed, stands in an exaggerated ābhaṅga posture with the left knee bent far forward, and the right hip correspondingly raised. Viṣṇu wears the vanamālā and an almost equally thick upavita, with a broad short torque and a channavīra across the chest, knotted in the centre. From the rolled girdle depend long pearled tassels reaching to the knees. The crown is a tall tapering kirītā rising from a square base. The ear ornaments are large half-disks hanging to the collar bone.

Four animal profiles rise at an angle from behind the ears and the back of the crown. These are disposed as follows:

Varāha Kūrma

Narasiṃha Matsya.

Behind the crown and the Varāha and Kūrma profiles rises the circular nimbus, carved with an eight-petalled lotus which was pierced around the edges; the proper left half of the lotus has broken off,

Most of the arms and attributes are lost. The front right hand displays the vyākhyāna-mudrā, turned to the left. The front left hand holds the śaṅkha horizontally, its point laid against the left thigh. The fourth left holds the remains of a bow.

The figures on the plinth face

Viṣṇu stands on a raised lotus which occupies the surface of the central plinth projection. The lotus is supported on the hands of a Garuḍa figure in the flying posture: his arms are raised like those of a caryatid. He is flanked by two kneeling figures, that to his right being male, that on his left female, both turned to face the centre and holding their hands in the namaskāra-mudrā.

On the face of the plinth to either side stood two figures side by side, of the which the pair on the left have been broken off. The two remaining figures on the right are crowned males standing in a similar posture to that of the main Viṣṇu figure, but with the left foot turned to the left. The right hand was raised evidently in the abhaya-mudrā, and the left hangs down to hold an indistinct object.

Above these figures stood a larger couple on either side, the male on the left being broken off. The male on the right appears to have held his hands in the namaskāra-mudrā. The two female figures, adjacent to Viṣṇu on either side, place one hand on the thigh and hold up an akṣamālā in the other. Their feet are buried in the plinth surface at the periphery of the central lotus, as if standing in water like Naginis.

Figures on the margins of the stele

The left edge of the stele is damaged, and all sculpture there has been destroyed. On the right edge appear two diminutive figures side by side, the lower part of their anatomy concealed by the head of the male figure standing on the plinth. Above them are two seated male figures of the same size, and two figures above them, one above the other. These appear to hold a large lotus blossom by its stem in each hand, and they are crowned. Together with the now missing figures in the corresponding position on the left margin of the stele, they probably represented the Dvadasa-Ādityas, the twelve aspects of the Sun-god.

Figures at the top of the stele

On the upper part of the stele two rows of figures are carved in relief, the upper frieze of fen figures running continuously across the top, the lower, with eight figures, interrupted by the nimbus of Viṣṇu.

The upper row of ten are all seated, nimbate figures holding various attributes, but most are damaged. The 3rd from the left is crowned and holds a sceptre-like object (possibly a lotus-bud) in the left hand, while displaying the abhaya-mudrā with the right. The 4th holds both ends of a scarf which flies up behind his head in a curve, suggesting that this figure might represent the Wind-god Vayu. The 5th holds an object similar to that of number 3, but in his right hand. The 6th holds a larger club in the right hand.

The lower group, divided by Viṣṇu's nimbus into two sets of four, consists of eight identical figures, also seated. apparently crowned but not nimbate, holding a bow in the left hand and an arrow in the right.


The posture of Viṣṇu, the grouping of figures on the centre of the plinth face and upon the plinth, and the frieze-like presentation of figures at the top of the stele, correspond to the same elements in the 10th-century Viśvarūpa from Suhania at Gwalior. This sculpture from Gurgi also represents Viṣṇu Viśvarūpa, and may be dated in the late 10th or 11th century.


Stein: 66 x 40.5 x 22; Viṣṇu H. 52.5 (face H. 5.7)

ursprunglich 8 Hande

Aus Antara, Shahdol District, Madhya Pradesh (StaMShah #84)


According to local officers of the State Archaeology Department, the sculpture was discovered in 1985 in the course of excavating and clearing one of the six mounds behind the Kaṅkālī temple at Antara, and was subsequently brought to Shahdol and placed in the State Museum. The mound in question at Anatara (inspected on 16.03.1994) shows the remains of the jagati of an east-facing temple of considerable size: nearby lie many detached architectural fragments dating to the 10th or 11th century- (Kalacuri period); no other individual sculptures are to be found in situ today except those claimed by the temple authorities and now haphazardly cemented into the compound wall, a number of fragmentary Yogini images among them, but their precise provenance can no longer be established.

The sculpture represents five-headed Viṣṇu standing on a projecting plinth against an unpierced rectangular stele with hatched sides and back. This is not a populated stele. The remains are not seriously eroded, but they have sustained extensive damage: the upper right corner of the stele is missing, as are all but one of the left arms of the image, and the crown, right-hand attributes, a flying figure in the upper left corner, and the plinth-figures, are all damaged

The plinth was intended to represent a projecting bhadra, with a recess at a lower level on either side. The front, and to a lesser extent the sides, of this projection are carved, while the flanking recessed angles were left plain with some hatching still remaining. The relief-work on the front of the plinth shows an undulating plant-motif (patravalli) with a central kirttimukha from the sides of which the leaf-pattern emerges.

On each of the lower flanking angles appears a kneeling male worshipper, that on the right still clearly showing the hands joined in the namaskāramudrā. Two larger figures in the same posture occupy the front corners of the raised plinth surface. Behind them are two female figures standing in an exaggerated atibhaṅga posture, leaning outwards in order to look up at the central Viṣṇu, one arm resting on the thigh and the other raised and perhaps originally holding a cāmara. Behind the smaller kneeling worshippers on the outer angles are two standing male figures, one hand lowered to the thigh, the other holding a flower below the centre of the chest; these would have been the Vaiṣṇava dvārapālas. The figure on the right extends in height up to the level of Viṣṇu's hip, but that on the left was considerably shorter, presumably to accommodate a large attribute, probably the bow (for which a supporting element remains on the stele, see infra) on this side. The damaged relief in the upper left corner of the stele appears to have represented a flying vidyādhara or maladhara with his consort behind.

The main figure stands in a somewhat awkwardly depicted ābhaṅga posture with the right hip thrust out and the weight on the right leg: the bent left knee tends inward toward the axis, producing a slightly pidgeon-toed effect which is further emphasised by the abrupt inward curve of the supporting leg and by the curious shortening of the big toe on both feet. In the case of the left foot, both the tip of this toe and the heel are elevated, suggesting a dance position. The torso however has a stiff frontality, with no turn of the shoulders or head.

Viṣṇu wears a jewelled vanamālā which loops below the knees, a short adhoṃśuka with a jewelled girdle and tassels, a short necklace, ear-ornaments, keyūras, and nūpuras on the ankles. Two long pearlstrings are worn on the torso in the manner of a channavīra, crossing below the centre of the chest. Between their junction and the necklace, a small flower-shaped srivatsa appears on the chest. The front of the crown is severely damaged: remains of carving on the sides indicate that it consisted of a kirītā with a. circlet of rosettes connected by looped pearlstrings supporting a taller, cross-hatched element. The enigmatic facial expression of Viṣṇu is typical of Kalacuri sculpture.

The two front hands hold the inverted śaṅkha at waist-height on the left, while the right displays the ahhaya- or vyākhyānamudrā with the akṣamālā at the level of the chest. Of the three remaining arms on the right the lowest was extended downward but is now a mere stump. The hand above held the gadā, and the uppermost a bundle of arrows (both sloping toward the shoulder), indicating that the bow originally appeared among the attributes on the left.

Four small animal-heads, two on either side, project from behind Viṣṇu's ears and the rim of his crown. On the right, angled very sharply upward, the tusked snout of the Varāha appears above the diminutive head of the Kūrma. On the left, at a much flatter angle, the profile of the Matsya (closely resembling that of the Boar) emanates above the head of Narasiṃha which shows clear signs of recutting.

In summary, the available iconographic features are these:

BĀṆA -- -- --
GADĀ -- -- --
-- -- -- -- -- --

Behind these heads on the left, between them and the damaged Vidyādhara-couple, the remains of the inner rim and petals of a lotus-halo can be seen.

Like sculpture no.2 (in the Birla Museum at Bhopal), this image originates from Antara in the eastern Kalacuri kingdom, where the many figures populating the nimbus were abandoned but the four emanating heads of the animal-avatāras retained. (The two kalacuri versions from Antara however represent them in differing dispositions, and the number of hands and attributes also varies.) Both of these late mediaeval icons appear to be related to the late Viśvarūpa variant from Badgaon / Nalanda in Bihar (see T. S. Maxwell; Bericht an die DFG vom 30.07.1992: pp.224-227) and to be derived from the late Viśvarūpa images from the eastern end of the Gurjara Pratihāra empire. Of the two Antara Viśvarūpa images, this version, which is stylistically similar to art of the 10th century, is the earlier.

This image has similarities to the Viśvarūpa from Gurgi (No.3, in the Baghela Museum at Rewa), but it is at least a generation later, as iconographic and stylistic changes indicate: the minor figures on the stele have been omitted, the posture is a travesty of the already exaggerated ābhaṅga in No.3, the channavīra which still gives the appearance of being a piece of equipment knotted on the chest in No.3 has here become a mere ornament of draped pearl-strings, and the iconographic motif on the plinth of No.3 has degenerated into a piece of decoration. Whereas the Gurgi Viśvarūpa (No.3) is a product of the late 10th or 11th century from a major centre of art production, this version from Antara is a markedly provincial variant made by an inferior artist at a slightly later date.


The image represents a late, abbreviated version of the Gurjara-Pratihāra Viṣṇu Viśvarūpa, derived from the Gurgi version. Antara, 11th century.


Stein: ca. 60 x 40

ursprunglich 8 Arme

Aus bhadoli, Shahdol District, Madhya Pradesh


This is a cult-image, a standing figure of Viṣṇu represented in high relief against a broad rectangular stele. The figure was intended to appear standing in an ābhaṅga posture with the weight on the left leg, the left hip being thrown out, and the right foot turned to the side; the legs are however very stiffly represented. The upper torso is turned slightly to the proper left, as is the face, the right shoulder being higher than the left. The figure is broken at the knees and waist, and the whole stele was once broken in half transversely at the latter level. The Viṣṇu figure appears to have had eight arms, all of which are broken off except the upper left, the hand of which wields the cakra near the shoulder. The figure wears the usual kuṇḍalas, hara, upavita, mekhala, and vanamālā, the latter being severely damaged. The broad round face wears a somewhat incongruously narrow kirītā. Behind the crown appears a small ring-shaped nimbus with alternate rosette-and-diamond motifs in relief.

Four diminutive animal-heads project from behind the head, at the level of the ears and of the crown-rim. The lower pair project horizontally, but the upper two are angled upwards as in the Kannauj Viśvarūpa iconography. These animal faces are very small and eroded, and hence very difficult to identify or even differentiate. They appear to represent the following distribution of avatāra heads:

Matsya Kūrma

Narasiṃha Varāha

The figure stands on a very thin lotus-base at the centre of the plinth. Two flanking lotuses support two pairs of kneeling worshippers facing the central axis of the composition, clearly in the act of paying homage to Viṣṇu. A further seated figure in similar posture appears behind each pair, on the rebates at the corners of the plinth. Behind the seated couples stand a pair of cāmara-bearers, the male to the left of the Viṣṇu figure, the female to the right, and two male dvārapālas, left hands held in front of the chest, stand beside them. Rearing vyalas appear on the margins of the stele. Above them, facing outwards, stand two further figures, apparently nāgas.

Three small standing figures appear on the crosspiece of the throne-back or torana, the nāgas and Viṣṇu's nimbus, on either side: these are manusya-avatāras. The two closest to the nimbus, and facing it, are VĀMANA on the proper right, and PARAŚU-RĀMA on the proper left. They are depicted in the role of priestly attendants on Viṣṇu's heads and crown, Paraśurāma holding a cāmara in his right hand (opposite the axe resting on his left shoulder) and Vāmana a small flower-offering in his right (opposite the parasol in his left hand). The remaining four small figures, two on each side, are shown facing the front. In the present condition of the sculpture, these are impossible to identify individually, but evidently they represent the other four avatāras in human shape, namely Rāma, Balarāma, Buddha (assuming the identity of the Viṣṇu image with Kṛṣṇa) and Kalkin. Together with the heads of the four emanating animal incarnations, all ten avatāras are thus shown in a line based on the crosspiece of the stele and level with the head of the principal Viṣṇu image.

Two small seated figures (probably Śiva and Brahmā) occupy the uppermost corners of the stele, above the Nāgas. A pair of flying vidydharas then appear, above the two outermost avatāras on either side. These flank a row of six very small seated figures, divided into two groups of three which face each other across the top margin of the stele; their identities are uncertain.


The number and identity of the heads of the principal Viṣṇu image, and the relatively few diminutive figures on the stele, associate this image with the Gurgi Viśvarūpa (No.03 in this Report), the Antara Viśvarūpa (no.02), and the second, later Antara Viśvarūpa (in Bhopal, No.04). These three, plus the fourth from Bhadoli described here, constitute a small corpus of mediaeval Viśvarūpa images from Baghelkhand, testifying to the strength of the Viśvarūpa cult in the later kalacuri kingdom during the 11th century. The iconography, though abbreviated, was clearly derived from the Viśvarūpa images from the eastern end of the late pratīhāra empire on the Gangetic plain. The location of this piece, in Shahdol District, further confirms the concentration of the Viśvarūpa cult in the eastern half of the late Pratīhāra kingdom (at Gurgi, Antara, and Bhadoli), while the Vaikuṇṭha cult seems to have been prevalent in the western half (Bilhari: No.01 in this Report), where the centre of kalacuri political power was located (at Tripuri / Tewar and Puspavati / Bilhari); the eastern half was thus under the hegemony of the declining Pratīhāras, while the western region, adjacent to the Candella kingdom, maintained a political independence, as the presence there of the Vaikuṇṭha cult signifies.


An 11th-century version of Viśvarūpa from the eastern half of the Later Kalacuri domains directly derived from the later imperial Gurjara-Pratīhāra Viśvarūpa iconography of the Gangetic plain but considerably abbreviated. This image forms a group together with the three Viśvarūpa images of similar date from Gurgi and Antara.


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Copyright (c) T. S. Maxwell 1994, 1995