Nagaraja (Serpent king)Artist(s)IndianArtist NationalityIndian (South Asian)Object Creation Datecirca 2nd centuryMedium & Supportmottled red sandstoneDimensions
23 in x 20 in x 8 in (58.42 cm x 50.8 cm x 20.32 cm)Credit LineGift of Mark and Iuliana PhillipsLabel copy
In India, the naga, or “snake,” is regarded as an auspicious creature for its association with water and fertility. Naga have been revered for centuries as local tutelary deities, although they have often been absorbed into Buddhism or Hinduism as subsidiary figures. Naga are represented either as snakes—usually cobras, with fanned-out hoods—or as anthropomorphic figures surmounted by cobra hoods. Here, water erosion over the centuries has worn away several of the cobra heads, but their scaly skin is clearly visible inside the “halo” they create.
This fragment is part of what must have once been a very impressive, life-size freestanding image of a Nagaraja, or “Serpent King.” His wide-eyed gaze, athletic posture, and cheerful smile date him to about the second century, when Mathura was emerging as a major sculpture center in north central India.
Exhibited in "Divine Encounters, Earthly Pleasures: Twenty Centuries of Indian Art," 12/12/03-2/22/04.Primary Object ClassificationSculptureCollection AreaAsianRights
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