Stele of Narasimha killing Hiraṇyakaśipu

14 000,00

Central India
10th-11th century
H. 45 cm

360° view




Narasimha, a fundamental avatar in Visnu mythology

This medieval stele represents Narasimha, one of the ten avatars of Visnu. Half-man, half-lion, he is widely represented in the temples of the Visnuite obedience. The mythological episode associated with him is linked to the defeat and death of the demon Hiranyakashipu. The latter, having conquered the privilege from Brahma of not being killed by either man or animal, neither by day nor by night, thus sowed unrest on earth. The son of the demon, a devotee of Visnu, thus incurred the wrath of his father. In a fit of mockery, Hiranyakashipu challenges Visnu and his gift of ubiquity at dusk. The latter then appears in a column in his half-man, half-lion form and disembowels the demon Hiranyakashipu, thus cunningly using his power since he is a hybrid creature who attacks him at a moment of vulnerability. The scene depicted here is crucial in Visnuite mythology, proving the omnipotence of the god to his devotees; but also his hold on the cosmic order.


A dramatic episode brilliantly illustrated

Narasimha is shown here dismembering the demon, i.e. at the key moment of the episode, at the heart of the dramatic tension. Narasimha brandishes the club vigorously with his upper right hand, while his upper left hand holds the wheel. He disembowels the demon he is holding on his thighs, while he strikes the demon deadly blows with his claws. The god’s right leg is bent and rests on small figures. The scene takes place on a base composed of two registers, similar to that of architectural consoles.

Narasimha’s body, with its supple plasticity, is adorned with ornaments such as necklaces and bracelets, thus referring to his status as supreme god. This status is also symbolised by the size of the god, who is largely disproportionate, in order to underline the hierarchy between the characters, according to the iconographic tradition.


A skilfully composed scene

This scene presents a very dynamic movement, and was intended to provoke admiration and terror in the faithful. The composition is based on the main lines of the body of the avatar of Visnu.  It is the diagonal line from the right arm to the left leg that gives this sculpture its power. This line is accentuated by the line of the right leg, which parallels it. The artists have obviously paid great attention to geometry, since the arm holding the club closes the composition, and the line of the demon’s body, which runs parallel to it, reinforces this dynamism.

The liveliness of the scene and the balance of the composition make this stele a very fine example of the talent of Indian artists in the illustration of mythological scenes.

Provenance : American private collection.