THE GOVERNMENT MUSEUM in Chennai has a magnificent collection of mostly early medieval Hindu and Buddhist bronze sculptures. One of these wonderful religious artworks was exceptionally interesting. At first sight, it seems like a sculpture of a human figure, but soon you will notice many odd things about it.
The figure has two right arms and one left arm. It’s left breast is female in form. The right is male. The right side of the torso has male characteristics, but the left side has sensuous female curves. As for tthe shapes of the buttocks, the right one is different from the larger left one. The right leg is largely unclothed, but the left is covered with a depiction of a cloth covering.
The statue I gave been describing is half male and half female. According to an information panel nearby, this sculpture is an 11th century depiction of Artanarishvara. It is a composite of Shiva (right half) and Parvati (left half). It represents the belief that the Godhead, Shiva, and his consort, Parvati, cannot exist without each other. It also shows that without the coexistence of male and female, human life cannot be propagated and continued. No doubt, there is much more meaning encompassed in this interesting sculpture, but I am not competent to discuss this further. Suffice it to say, seeing this unusual sculpture gave me food for thought.
Until today, I had never seen an Artanarishvara. This beautifully crafted work was one of many lovely pieces in the bronze collection of Chennai’s version of the British Museum.