Vishnu Stele, four-armed Vishnu with two of his attributes personified

Accession Number

Vishnu Stele, four-armed Vishnu with two of his attributes personified


Artist Nationality
Indian (South Asian)

Object Creation Date
circa 10th century

Medium & Support
black schist

50 15/16 in x 24 in x 11 1/4 in (129.4 cm x 60.96 cm x 28.58 cm);50 15/16 in x 24 in x 11 1/4 in (129.4 cm x 60.96 cm x 28.58 cm);6 5/16 in (16 cm);8 in x 25 in x 15 in (20.32 cm x 63.5 cm x 38.1 cm)

Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by the Margaret Watson Parker Art Collection Fund

Label copy
March 28, 2009
This sculpture was probably made for the main sanctum of a temple or for one of the prominent niches on its exterior. The Hindu god Vishnu—who is believed to preserve the universe and maintain cosmic order—rises like a pillar from the base of this sculpture: his body is perfectly erect, his form symmetrical. The stone matrix behind him is pierced to suggest that the god stands free from any support. Yet, the arched matrix that surrounds Vishnu is essential—as a structural support, as a visual frame, and as the god’s temporary home. There is an intimate relationship between the god’s body and his sculptural surroundings: two arms are embedded in the plane behind him while two project forward echoing the curved bell of his hips. A garland unites the planes of carving in an elliptical halo, framing his body for the gaze of his devotees.
(Label for UMMA South and Southeast Asia Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject matter
Buddhism flourished in northeast India under the Pala dynasty, but most of the Pala kings were followers of the Hindu god Vishnu, whose role as preserver and sustainer of the cosmos accorded well with ideals of royal duty. This impressive stele shows Vishnu in his form as universal king: he wears an elaborate crown and jewelry, and carries four weapons: the gada (a club or mace), the cakra (a discus), the shankha (a conch-like shell), and the padma (lotus).
At his feet appear two figures who are personifications of the two attributes (anthropomorphic representations of his signature weapons). The female is Padmadevi, a goddess who is the personification of the pure lotus, and the male is Shankapurusha, a personification of the trumpetlike shell.
The figure of Vishnu has an idealized youthful body, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, and an expression of perfect serenity.
Vishnu is one of the principal gods of Hinduism, along with Shiva and the goddess, and commands a large following. He is often depicted with four arms and consistently carries four attributes: the discus, conch, club and lotus. Sometimes, as in this case, two of his attributes are personified at the base. Gender of the weapon reflects the gender of the personified figure.

Physical Description
Vishnu stand in a strict unbending pose, samabhanga and has four hands. Reading clockwise from the front right hand, he holds lotus, a club, a discus and a conch. The lotus and conch are also personified with full standing figures at the base below his tow front hands, the lotus as a female figure to his right and the conch as a male figure to his left. On the pointed arch behind the figure a flying figure holding garlands is carved in shallow relief to either side of his crown. He wears a diaphanous lower cloth, the folds of the garment are articulated with a flared section down the center. He wears a long garland down to his knees, a sacred thread and various pieces of jewelry, including bracelets, armlets, a necklace and large earrings and an elaborate crown.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

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Collection Area

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On display

UMMA Gallery Location ➜ FFW, 2nd floor ➜ 217 (Gallery of South, Southeast and Central Asian Art)