THE 'CLASSICAL' PHASE...
Development in the Gupta Period
text makes no mention, however, of a form having twelve arms. Kumāra is
said (Ibid., 3.71.4d-5) to have the peacock as his vāhana
and to have four arms, holding in his hands the cockerel and the bell
on the right, the Vaijayantī banner (patākā)
and the spear (śakti) on the
left. The peacock vāhana, absent
from the Pawāya lintel image although attributed to six-faced Kumāra in
the text, is denied to the other three forms of the god (na mayūragatāstathā:
3.71.6d); this is just the reverse of the iconography which is found
in sculptures of the Gupta period, where single-headed sculptures are
accompanied by the peacock,13
but not the unique six-headed version. The only correspondence between the
Viṣṇudharmottara description quoted and the Pawāya sculpture lies
in the six faces and the topknots mentioned in stanza 4ab. However, there
is no possibility of this image representing any god other than Skanda Kārttikeya
alias Kumāra: it Ins no Śaiva features, the five heads being clearly
intended to represent six, no Vaiṣṇava iconographic traits, and has too
many heads to be an icon of Brahmā.
passage from the Mahābhārata concerning
the birth of Skanda Kārttikeya, translated by O'Flaherty14
contains, what might be an early mythological basis for the four forms of
the god mentioned in the iconographical extract from the Viṣṇudharmottara quoted above. The names appear to be connected
with the first four days of his life.
seed shed there, full of energy, engendered a son who was honoured by the
sages as Skanda because he had been shed [skannam].
The Youth had six heads, twice that many ears, and twelve eyes, hands and
feet; he had one neck and one body. On the second day he assumed a
distinct form, on the third he became a child, and on the fourth he became
Guha, with all his limbs developed.
is no direct correspondence between the stages of the god's development
described here, and the iconographical forms prescribed in the Viṣṇudharmottara,
but the word translated as 'The Youth' in the Sanskrit is Kumāra, and it
is under this name in both the epic and iconographical texts that the god
is described as endowed with six heads. The epic description of The Youth,
Kumāra, is indeed an accurate anatomical description of the figure on the
Pawāya lintel, even in a detail such as the single neck; the Viṣṇudharmottara
adds to this picture of his physical appearance the topknot of hair (śikhaṇḍaka),
apart from the hand-held symbolical objects
and the vāhana, which are
not shown in the sculpture. It may be correct, therefore, to identify the
Pawāya lintel sculpture as a Gupta conception of the Kumāra aspect of
further piece of evidence which supports this identification is the
presence to the surviving proper right of the deity of three smaller,
two-armed figures in human form. Despite the erosion, it is possible quite
clearly to distinguish their postures. One is kneeling beside the god, the
face level with his hip and the head directly beneath his lowest right
forearm; the hands of this figure are held in front of the body,
apparently extending an offering. Behind the latter figure is another,
standing, whose hands are raised before the bowed head, apparently in an
attitude of homage directed toward the god. The same posture is adopted by
the third subsidiary figure who stands, as it seems, in the air, the feet
almost resting upon the standing figure below, the head higher than those
of the god, but inclined toward him. To judge by their postures these
figures seem to be feminine.
If it is assumed-as I have assumed for the god's arm-that the two sides of this damaged icon were symmetrically balanced, another trio of female figures, similarly arranged, may originally have been present on the opposite, broken side of the sculpture. Such a composition, consisting of Kumāra surrounded by six females, suggests that the latter group represents the Kṛttikās, the star-goddess personifications of the supposed six members of the constellation Kārttika (Pleiades), who in mythology; are the foster-mothers of Kumāra, from whom he derives the matronymic Kārttikeya. It was in order to suckle all six mothers simultaneously that Skanda, or Kumāra, became six-headed.
of the two innovatory multiheaded image-types established in the Gupta
period as part of the brahmanical pantheon was a form of Viṣṇu.
Examination of the archaeological remains shows that the main figure of
such an image was the four-armed standing Viṣṇu icon which had been
virtually standardized in the Kuṣāṇa period. This figure was evidently
perpetuated in the Gupta style with one major iconographical change: the
primary weapons of the god, the mace (gadā)
and disc (cakra), were each
assigned a tutelary deity, namely Gadā-devī and Cakra-puruṣa (as seen
in Plates 43 and 45).
The multiheaded type of this icon, which appears to have been invented during the Gupta period at Mathura, since the earliest remains of the type have been found there, had the additional face of a lion carved in relief at the junction of the neck with the proper right shoulder, and that of a boar in the corresponding position on the proper left. The sides on which these animal heads appeared were sometimes reversed (Plate 43), but only during the Gupta period and only at Mathura; elsewhere and in subsequent periods, the lion face is always found on the right and the boar face on the left.
these sculputures, the side-heads are invariably found to be represented
in relief upon the background or the śiraścakra
never in the round. Had these icons been free-standing, some physical
connection between the main Viṣṇu icon and the extra heads would have
been necessary; in fact, close examination of the Mathura Museum
sculptures reveals no anatomical connection (Plates 41 and 44). (The
exception appears to be the boar's head in a terracotta plaque
representing this form of the deity in a squatting posture: Plate 45). In
the case of the boar's head, its angle of projection from (as it would
seem) behind the main figure, gives only the impression of physical
conjunction (Plate 44)) which I believe to be disproved by the complete
absence of a neck joining the lion's head to Viṣṇu's body. The
side-heads are, moreover, smaller than the human face which appears
between them (Plates 40,42, and 43), a feature which was also
characteristic of earlier Kuṣāṇa images, but they are presented in a
totally different manner: the face of the lion is angled outward at about
forty-live degrees from the plane of the backslab while that of the boar
is invariably presented in profile and angled upward at an approximately
forty-five degree angle from the horizontal (Plates 42 and 44). The reason
for this difference, and indeed the sculptural origin of the icon type
itself, is to be found in independent images of the Man-Lion (Nṛsiṃha)
and Boar (Varāha) avatāras of
Viṣṇu belonging to the Gupta period. These incarnations are most usually
represented in the form of two-armed human bodies having the head either
of the lion or of the boar (the fully theriomorphic Varāha being an
exception). If three such sculptures of Nṛsimḥa, Viṣṇu, and Varāha15
were to be superimposed, the result would be an icon having the heads in
virtually the same attitudes as those in which they appear in the
three-headed type of image under discussion.
thirty-five years ago, much the same theory of coalescence was propounded
by P. H. Pott16
with regard to the origin of complex Buddhist images.
In the case of the Vaiṣṇava figures, the ratio of beads to arms is not as neatly precise as in this formulation, there being only two pairs of arms to three heads. But the basic validity of the theory concerning 'multiplex figures', as Pott described such icons, is not undermined by this fact, for the separate figures of Nṛsimḥa and Varāha do not hold emblems different from those of the standard Viṣṇu image of the age, when they hold emblems at all. Indeed, the ratio is rarely as balanced as Pott suggests either in brahmanical or in Buddhist iconography: the remarkable and unique sixth-century rock-cut Avalokiteśvara relief in Cave 41 at Kanheri has the eleven heads with which one form of this Buddhist figure is canonically endowed, but only four arms.17
Kanheri image (Plates 46 and 47), the earliest known formulation of the
eleven-headed Avalokiteśvara image-type in a sculptured shrine in India,
has iconographical relevance to these brahmanical icons. All eleven heads
can be seen from the front; the three Ievels of three faces between the
natural and the topmost heads do not stand for a triple set of four heads.
The basic method of representing the heads of this Avalokiteśvara type
did not change in subsequent images; even in free-standing icons, the
divinity was to retain the stack of forward-facing heads, though in
differing arrangements, as they appear in this early relief; which is thus
not an abbreviated form of a divinity having more 'concealed' heads. It
may be noted, further, that the side-heads of these triple sets, like the
lion's head of the Mathura Vaiṣṇava sculptures, are angled outward at
about forty-five degrees from the rock surface and are simply clustered
together, showing no evidence at all of being anatomically connected to
the main figure or to each other. The multiple heads, both of Avalokiteśvara
and of the Vaiṣṇava images, are ranged in a purely formal grouping in
order to express symbolically-not anatomically the manifold identity of
the main divinity. To describe these figures as 'eleven-headed' or
'three-headed' is thus, strictly speaking, inaccurate. The Viṣṇu
icon-type with the heads of the Alan-Lion and Boar avatāras in the nimbus is not a depiction of a tricephalous
mythological dramatis persona in
the way that Brahmā and Skanda-Kārttikeya are respectively four-headed
and six-headed figures drawn straight from epic myth.
How are the Mathura sculptures to be interpreted? The question has apparently been settled, but I intend to challenge the accepted view.
Following clues left by B. C. Bhattacharya18 in 1921, it was J. N. Banerjea19 who lint brought forward an interpretation of multiheaded Viṣṇu images from Kashmir as visual expressions of Pāṅcarātra theology. These images, consisting of a Viṣṇu icon, with the Nṛsimḥa and Varāha faces disposed on the proper right and left of the central head respectively, as in certain of the Gupta-period Mathura sculptures, plus a demon-lie face, at the back, were shown to be related directly to certain śilpaśāstric passages the Viṣṇudharmottara which describe, or prescribe, the four-faced images in Pāṅcarātra terms. It must be stressed here that at no point does this text speak of a three-headed form of Viṣṇu.
the following year, 1941, which saw the publication of his masterwork,
Banerjea by implication subjected the Mathura sculptures to the same
interpretation: 'Eight-armed images of this type are found in the Mārttaṇḍa
temple, Kashmir, and a few four-armed ones were also recovered from
Mathura and Banares.'20
As there are no remains of Viṣṇu sculptures having the two animal
side-heads at Mathura in a style later than the Gupta, it is the images I
am discussing here that Banerjea must have referred to.
Subsequent writers have persistently and uncritically referred to
the Mathura sculptures as Vaikuṇṭha, the name by which, as Banerjea
pointed out in 1940, the Viṣṇudharmottara
calls the four-faced type of Viṣṇu.
Pāṅcarātra cosmogonic theory, as discussed in Chapter 1 with
regard to Sculpture 3 and 4, is expressed in terms of a fairly complicated
system of feminine kośas and
four masculine vyūhas, the
latter being personified by Kṛṣṇa Vāsudeva and his three kinsmen. In
the Viṣṇudharmottara each of these personifications is said to be
represented, in the four-faced Viṣṇu icon-type, by one of the four
countenances of this Vaikuṇṭha icon. (The text is cast in the form of a
conversation between the enquiring kṣatriya,
Vajra, and the expositor brāhmaṇa,
ca kāryāś catvāro bāhavo dviguṇāa tathā/
tu vadanaṃ pūrvaṃ nārasiṃhaṃ tu dakṣiṇam//
paścimaṃ vaktraṃ tathā vārāham uttaram/
four faces should be made, and arms twice as many.
eastern (front) face [should be] gentle, the southern (right) that of
western(rear) face, that of Kapila, and the northern (left),that of Varāha.
Continuing to the next chapter which contains Vaiṣṇava material, on reads:
jñānaṃ tathaiśvaryaṃ śaktiś ca yadunandana/
devadevasya tasya vaktracatuṣṭayam//
ca bhagavāṃs tathā saṅkarṣaṇaḥ prabhuḥ/
cāniruddaś ca balādyāḥ parikīryitāḥ// (3.47.9-10)
Strength, knowledge, sovereignty and female-power, O Pride of the Yadus (i.e. Vajra) - [so] is the tetrad of faces of that god of gods to be understood;
Lord Vāsudeva, Lord Saṅkarṣaṇa,
Pradyumna and Anirudha are respectively known as strength etc.
Reinforcing this apportionment of positions, names and qualities to the four-faced image, one reads in a later chapter.
te rūpanirmāṇaṃ caturmūrter mayeritam//
kāryo vaikuṇṭhety abhiśabditaḥ/
sa kartavyaḥ prāguktavadanaḥ prabhuḥ//
sa bhavati kṛte mukhacatuṣṭaye/
saumyavadanaṃ kāryaṃ yat tu mukhyatamaṃ viduḥ//
siṃhavaktrābhaṃ jñānavaktraṃ tu dakṣiṇam/
vadanaṃ raudraṃ yat tad aiśvaryam ucyate//
is the way to make the image of the four-bodied [god] declared by me to
is to be made with one body [and] is addressed as 'Vaikuṇṭha';
Lord with the aforesaid face is to be made four-fared-he becomes
four-bodied when the tetrad of faces is made.
eastern (front) is to be made a gentle face, which is known as the main
southern (right) face of knowledge should be made in the likeness of a
western (rear) ferocious face is said to be that of sovereignty.
is not made in this passage of the boar's head on the north. or left,
these three extracts together, one is presented with a most incongruous
set of equivalences which are best summarised thus (Figure 2.1).
the face of the principal Viṣṇu figure as that of Vāsudeva, which is
gentle, the main one and representative of strength, is understandable;
but identification of the Nṛsiṃha side-face with the already
iconographically defined Saṅkarṣaṇa (renowned
for his drunkenness) representing knowledge, and of the Varāha side-head
with Aniruddha and female-power (śakti) is difficult to grasp. (I leave
unmentioned, for the moment, the rear face, of which, as I have remarked,
there is no sign in the 'multi-headed' Viṣṇu images of the Gupta
period.) Banerjea himself was thoroughly confused by this bizarre
superimposition of identities and attribution of qualities to the avatāras.
is curious that Saṃkarṣaṇa in whom jñāna
is particularly manifest ...should
have a lion-face, and Pradyumna in whom aiśvarya
is the prominent guṇa, a boar-
ace. Aniruddha's association with [the] frightful demoniacal face on the
back of Viṣṇu Caturmūrti...22
scholar's perplexity over the transmogrified physiognomy of Vāsudeva's
kinsmen IS only compounded by the fact that he had misread his text,
incorrectly correlating Pradyumna, instead of Aniruddha, with the Varāha
and, in the subsequent sentence, Aniruddha, instead of Pradyumna, with the
rear face. This mistake, trivial though it may be, appears to have, passed
unchallenged by other scholars.
far greater importance is the erroneous identification of the three-faced
Viṣṇu images under examination here with the Vaikuṇṭha described in
the Viṣṇudharmottara. This
identification has been accepted by most scholars since 1940, when
Banerjea published his Lahore Congress paper, and has never to my
knowledge been directly challenged. I accept the Vaikuṇṭha
identification with regard to later derivative images made in
Kashmir-although this has been challenged by one eminent scholar23
but not with regard to the original Gupta images of Mathura, for the
the text upon the basis of which the Vaikuṇṭha identification is made is
consistent to the point of dogmatism in assigning the Narasiṃha face to
the proper right and the Varāha face to the proper left (or south and
north respectively) of the main face of the Viṣṇu image. If there were
any inconsistency in the sculpture, the sequence of identities and
qualities attributed to the icon \would be disturbed and the carefully
devised symbolical scheme would be meaningless, For Pāṅcarātra theology
expresses the stages of the cosmogony in precise evolutionary phases using
the personified vyūhas as symbols
of the development of the multiplicity of existence in Its initial
fourfold diversification. Yet at Mathura there are at least two Gupta
examples (e.g. Plates 43 and 45) of the position of the side-heads being
reversed, an iconographical blunder which would never have been allowed to
stand as an expression of Pāṅcarātra theology if the dictates of the Viṣṇudharmottara
were being followed in order to create a Vaikuṇṭha icon. Only in the
post-Gupta period, and not at Mathura, did the position of the heads
conform without exception to textual prescription.
there is a fundamental objection to equating the vyūhas
of Pāṅcarātra theory with the animal side-faces of the images: the
four vyūhas, personified, by Vāsudeva and his kinsmen, are representations of
cosmogonic phases belonging to the realm of theology, while the Narasiṃha
and Varāha avatāras are
post-creation figures belonging to the realm of mythology. To dictate, as
the text undeniably does, that this equation be accepted, requires
considerable sophistication of thought and imaginative powers. The
relative positions of the avatāra
side-heads were not iconographically fixed in the Gupta period, which is
consistent with the fact, already mentioned, that the icon-Type was Gupta
innovation. I suggest that a substantial period of time would be required
for the images to become established and of fixed iconography before such
definitive iconological interpretations as those of the Viṣṇudharmottara
could be imposed upon them with any confidence. I have moreover
already shown that the vyūhas cosmogonic
theory was translatable into visual form in the preceding Kuṣāṇa
period (sculpture 3, Plate I0), using, more appropriately, anthropomorphic
figures of the deities representing the caturvyūhas
in accordance with cosmogonical concepts of the Pāṅcarātra type.
That in the Gupta period this tradition should have been ignored in the
same sculptural school of Mathura and the animal-headed avatāras
associated with the Viṣṇu image in order to represent the vyūhas, seems a most unlikely proposition.
if, for the sake of argument, one accepts this unreasonable proposition,
one has to accept the fact that the Gupta iconologists were so
sophisticated in their thinking that they were able to grasp the vyūha theory, translate it into visual terms using-for some unknown
reason-avatāra imagery, and only by implication create, all at once and without
precedent, a four-headed icon to symbolize the vyūha -tetrad, depicting
only three of the aspects of an essentially quadruple concept. This,
surely, is to presuppose too much. At least at the beginning of such an
enterprise some explicitly four-sided or four-faced sculpture would have
perhaps only later, as in the case of Brahmā, to be abbreviated to a
three-faced relief when the fourth aspect could be taken for granted. The
archaeological evidence shows that historically precisely the reverse was
the case: four-faced Viṣṇu icons and four-sided Vaiṣṇava stelae occur
in the post-Gupta period.25
In other words, the fourth aspect was a later (eighth-century Kashmiri)
addition to a three-faced Gupta prototype invented at Mathura.
images are in my view simply expressions of the avatāra
doctrine, coalescing Viṣṇu and two of his most popular mythological
incarnations, the Nṛsiṃha and the Varāha, which were worshipped
individually, as is known from separate cult icons representing them26
Quite conceivably it was in an attempt to assert the predominance of Viṣṇu
as the source of these figures, which were in origin the foci of strong,
independent cults, that the 'three-headed' icon was introduced as a symbol
of syncretism. It is even possible that the priesthood of the Viṣṇu-Kṛṣṇa
cult crated this type of icon in the face of threats to the supremacy of
Viṣṇu consisting of growing support for the Nṛsiṃha and Varāha cults.
appears to be a far more reasonable interpretation of these images than
the cumbersome and untenable Pāṅcarātra theory. This is not, after all,
a complicated icon. It seems to have been hastily conceived and was
certainly, in Mathura, a short-lived image-type. The avatāra
side-beads could be changed from one side to the other of the central Viṣṇu
face, demonstrating an absence of a fixed iconography and thus also of a
firm theological basis. The name of Viṣṇu in this form is not recorded;
it might possibly have been Vaikuṇṭha, but not in the strict Pāṅcarātra
sense. What is iconographically significant about this innovation is that
it was to be developed, in the post-Gupta period, after serving its
transient sectarian purpose in Mathura, into the powerful four-faced Vaikuṇṭha
icon of the Pāṅcarātra sect in Kashmir; and that it formed the
sculptural basis for the most complex of all brahmanical images, namely
that of Viśvarūpa, the Gupta origins of which I shall examine next.
sculpture of the Viśvarūpa type
mythology concerning a figure known as Viśvarūpa
is as old as the Ṛgveda and reached its climax in the Bhagavadgītā, in which this is one of the names of the vision of Kṛṣṇa
as the omniform and omnipotent god which is beheld, with horror, by the
demoralised Arjuna between the two armies on the battle-field of Kurukṣetra.
The name is used in certain of the Purāṇas
as an epithet of Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu, but among the Sanskrit texts
which contain mythologies of the gods, the only full description of this
revelatory manifestation of the Vaiṣṇava godhead
is that given in the Gītā27.
As far as is known, all 'prescriptions' of the śilpaśastric
type-amounting in most cases to inconsistent and inaccurate descriptions
with the verbs inflected in the optative-are later in date than the
earliest attempts to represent Viṣṇu as
The design of such an ambitious type of icon will be shown to be the
combination of several iconographical techniques already devised by
sculptors of other multiplex images, particularly in the Mathura region
during the Kuṣāṇa period. But like the Vaikuṇṭha icon-type, the Viśvarūpa,
as a sculptured object of worship was, to judge by the archaeological
evidence, an invention of the Gupta period. The rest of this chapter will
be devoted to an examination of two such Viśvarūpa image
unique and somewhat enigmatic figure is carved in relief at the centre of
a long lintel from Gaḍhwā in the Allahabad region of Uttar Pradesh29
(Plate 48). Certain individual feature of this broad composition were to
be perpetuated in other, more complex multiple Vaiṣṇava images
but the icon here, as depicted within the framework of the whole frieze,
is the only one of its kind extant.
is interesting to note the artistic context in which this iron appears.30
The lintel depicts a procession, or two processions, converging upon a
central shrine, complete with adjoining dharmaśālā
or hostel, in which the image is seen being worshipped. In other words,
the image forms an integral part--as well as the compositional focus-of a
narrative frieze, which apparently represents an actual pilgrimage made to
a temple dedicated to a multiplex form of Viṣṇu, who is identifiable by
the long vanamālā and the
remains of flanking āyudhapuruṣas.
(As far as is known, no such real temple survives in the geo-graphical
area covered by this work; field research revealed that such cults are
virtually extinct.) The only two figures which appear to he independent of
the action in this long relief---although they are undoubtedly integral to
the frieze in symbolic terms-are those of the sun and moon gods, the
latter appearing seated with his śakti,
at the extremities. Their association with the Viśvarūpa figure, both in
the Gītā and in the sculpture, will become apparent as my examination
of this type of image progresses. It should also be remarked that,
although the two processions converging on the central figure are clearly
peaceful-there is an obvious air of festivity about them-the enshrined
image is depicted standing between two groups.
They proceed from different sources and in opposed directions, one
group from the sun, the other from the moon. Viśvarūpa standing between
two opposed factions is a persistent theme of both the mythology and the
iconography. Since, however, this theme does not become apparent in
sculpture until the post--Gupta phases in the development of the Viśvarūpa
icon, discussion of this important feature will be deferred to Chapters 3
Ibid., Plate 65.
W. D. O'Flaherty, Hindu Myths, A
Sourcebook Translated from the Sanskrit, Harmondsworth 1975,
See, for example, Harle, Gupta
Sculpture, Plates 49,25 and 26.
P.H. Pott, India Antiqua,
Leiden 1947, p.288.
Recorded by Burgess in J. Fergusson and J. Burgess, The cave Temple of India,1880, p.357 and plate LV, drawing 2;see
also D. Mitra, Buddhist
Monuments, Calcutta 1971, p.166.
B. C. Bhattacharya, Indian Images, Part I, 1921, pp.8-9 and plate IV.
Then spelling his name Jitendar Nath Banerjee, 'Mediaeval Visnu Images
from Kashmir and Some Visnudharmottara Passages', Proceedings of the
Indian History Congress (Lahore), 1940, pp.61 ff.
Banerjea, Hindu Iconography, p.409.
In the text, (critically edited by P. Shah,
Viṣṇudharmottara-Purāṇa, Third Khaṇḍa, Gaekwad's
Oriental Series No.CXXX, Baroda 1958), the reading as bālaṃ.
Banerjea, Hindu Iconography, p.
23 P. Pal, 'A Brāmanical Triad from Kashmir and Some Related Icons', AAA XXVII, 1973-74, p. 36. denies that the four-raced Viṣṇu image is referred to as Vaikuṇṭha in the Viṣṇudharmottara; tint this is not so can he seen at 3.85.43b - vaikuṇṭhety abhiśabditaḥ. Pal holds that the name Vaikuṇṭha occurs only in the Jayākhyasaṃhitā among the 'early' texts (ibid.). But the most prolific perpetrator of the false reasoning with regard to the Gupta Viṣṇu images with avatāra side-heads at Mathura is R. C. Agrawala, for example in his Nṛsiṃha-Varāha-Vishṇu Images and Some. Allied Problems', Lalit Kalā 16,1974, pp.11 ff: Agrawala knows of a reference to Viṣṇu Vaikuṇṭha in the Jayākhyasaṃhitā, 'a fifth century text', and so infers that 'the popularity of this particular sect of the Paṅcharātra cult was confied to Mathura and its vicinity during the Gupta period. On the other hand the centre of the cult appears to have shifted to Kashmir and Punjab Hills in the early emdiaeval period') p.13). The usually accepted date of the Jayākhya has been seriously challenged by K.V. Soundararajan, 'Kaustubha Prāsāda- New Light on Jayākhya Tantra' in Journal of the Oriental Institute XVII, 1 September 1961,p.79; Soundararajan would date the text to AD. 600-850, which would bring its description of four-faced Vaikuṇṭha (Agrawala, Nṛsiṃha-Varāha- Vishṇu Images', note I ) within the same religious ambit as that of the Viṣṇudharmottara To think, with Agrawala, that 'None of the extant Gupta images of Vaikuṇṭha represent the Kapila or Raudra face since all of them are carved in relief,' is to stand history on its head; the Pāṅcarātra Vaikuṇṭha was not known in Gupta times at Mathura and so its western (rear) aspect was of course not represented, never having been conceived.
D. Srinivasan, 'Early Vaiṣṇava
Imagery Caturvyūha and Variant Forms', AAA
XXXII, 1979, p. 41, illustrates a four-sided sculpture from Bhīṭā
dated to the 2nd century B.C., comprising two addorsed figures with a
disembodied head on either side between them, above a lion and a very
small (?) boar standing on a pillar (Lucknow Museum no. 56.394). This
is termed a 'Vaishnava Caturvyuha' on the basis of the Viṣṇudharmottara
equivalences that I have translated. Interesting though the
sculpture is, these vyūha/avtāra
equivalences cannot seriously be considered to have existed
between 800 and one thousand years before the date of the Viṣṇudharmottara
which first formulated them. Nor is there any archaeological
evidence to link the sculpture iconographically to those of Gupta
Many four-faced Viṣṇu images appear in Kashmir from the 8th-12th centuries,
expressing the vyūha
iconographical symbolism of Viṣṇudharmottara3;
some four-sided Vaiṣṇava stelae dating from the 7th century, with Viṣṇu
and three avtāras on the
sides, are known from Mathura (a fine example is in the Museum fūr
Indische Kunst,Berlin) and elsewhere (another is in the State Museum,
See Harle, Gupta Sculpture,
Plate12, the colossal Varāha shrine at Udayagiri; plate 24, the
life-size Varāha with the body of a man; plate 25, the (originally)
life-size Nṛsiṃha at
Eran; plate 112,the large cult-image of Nṛsiṃha, possibly from
The mythology is summarized by me in 'Transformational Aspects of
Hindu Myth and Iconology: Viśvarūpa', AARP
4, December 1973, pp. 59-63 and p.73, Appendix 1.A.II.
I bid., p.69, Appendix 1.A.II.
State Museum, Lucknow, nos. B223a-c. The entire lintel is published by
Harle, Gupta sculpture, plates 71-78 and notes, p.47.
30 See Harle, Gupta Sculpture, plates 71 and 72: the icon is at the extreme left of plate 72.
©Oxford University Press 1988