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Sonja Binner
Art 117B
T/Th 12:00-1:15
Prof. John Listopad

Four faced Linga or Elephanta

Introduction
The Four faced Linga called Elephanta was not my first choice to write about. My first
choice was Ganesha but after looking at both sculptures, I realized Elephanta was more
interesting for me to talk about in the sense of the Iconography. It gave me a sense of emotional
feelings and energy when I looked at the sculpture, and I believe there is a big story behind it. I
know it will be a lot of research and work, but I am looking forward to it. It will be very
interesting to dig into. I chose different books and a web site to do my research on the Four
faced Linga. It is interesting that all faces have differences and similarities at the same time. I
will try to explain the differences in the eyes of the scholar. However, there exist also a one-face
Linga main object of worship in Cave 4 at Udayagiri.1 The one-faced Linga/Elephanta is
different to the four-faced Linga because of the hair, face, and less jewelry.2 In the Hindu and
Buddhist religion it exist, so many deities and for each one we have a different iconography.

Huntington. Ancient India 193

Ibid., 194.

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Description
In the early Gupta period it was an excavation carried by the Hindus cut out from a
stone.3 Scholars are not sure of the date when the cave or Temple of Elephanta was created and
no historgraphy proof has been available. It is assumed between the fifth to the twelfth century is
when the cave was created.4 It is interesting why the sculpture, The Four face Linga or Elephanta
has only three faces: one is facing the front, the other two facing the left, and the right side in the
back we dont see a face. In original, it should be five faces, one in the front view, the other two
left and right side, backside, and the last one on the top of his head.5 The sculpture is a symbol of
the deity Shiva. He is one of the most important deities in the Hindu religion. It is a very tall
statue with multiply heads and overwhelming for visitors to see when going in to the Elephanta
cave. It gives a great deal of discussion among scholars.6 While going into the caves, it is very
scary because of the majestic interior, but it is comfortably enough space with open a feeling to
it. The pillars and reliefs in the cave are gigantic in size7 and give the viewer open emotional
feeling toward the sculpture. In the Kalacuri period the cave of Elephanta was created around
540 to 555 and consider an early excavation. 8 The one-faced Linga was made in the first quarter

Ibid., 275.

Dillard, The Iconograph & Ritual of Siva at Elephanta, 4

Huntigton, Ancient India, 279

6Ibid.,

279.

Ibid., 277.

Ibid., 276.

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of the 5th century and may be the same time as the four-faced Linga was created. Perhaps it is no
more dramatic symbol of the power of Shiva than the image of the Linga, or phallus symbol with
the representation of one or more human heads. It implies great sexual energy. The idealized
phallus symbol usually made of metal or stone was used in ritual worship and dedicated to the
Hindu god Shiva.9 It is a representation of the whole creative energy of the universe.10 There is a
variety of the Hindu sculptures seen in Udayagiri.11 A highly well-known temple created in the
early Kalacuri dynasty is unusual for the early Gupta period because their context is preserved. 12
The great cave at Elephanta is the finest and maybe was used to demonstrate the general
characteristics of Kalacuri-period of the Hindu caves.13 However their formative fully developed
icons preserved in stone sculpture examples represent religious concepts over centuries. The
cubical shrine which contains a linga and on the entrance have two big entrances on each side
which represent an early Buddhist cave. The description for the four different faces and the
attributes we see held in their hands are difficult to differentiate.14 It would be very interesting if
we had more literature about the attribute so we could have more understanding of the
Iconography and what is meant.

Himalanart.com

10

Huntington, Ancient India, 193.

11

Ibid., 275.

12

Ibid., 193-194.

13

Huntington, Ancient India, 276

14

Himalayanart.org

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The study of Hindu and Buddhist iconography in this sense has been so far largely
concerned with generally well-known and important deities.15 The deities mainly made of
sculpture in terracotta or wood. Shivas four faces surrounding the Linga and central formless
face above represent five aspects of Shiva and five geographic holy places.16 All five directions
represent different geographic holy places. Tatpurusha is on east side represents Jaganath,
Aghora on the south side representing Rameshwar, Vamadeva on the north side representing
Badri Narain, Sadvojata on the west side representing Dyarika, and Ishana in the center facing up
represent Pashupati 17. It is interesting the face on the top what we cant see anymore was
representing Pashapati temple complex of Kathmandu Valley. The description for the four
different faces is very difficult to differentiate them because we only can see three.
Religion
The first two hundred years of Pala-period art were almost dominated by Buddhist
production, but Hindu took the domain in the last two hundred years of the Pala period. 18 There
is little left from the Buddhist architecture compare to the Hindu architectural forms and
sculptures. From the 8th till 12th century the Hindu artistic development was huge, and we have to
put great attention to the surviving sculptures. It is very interesting the Hindu image on sculpture

15

Bhagwant. Iconography of minor hindu and Buddhist deities

16

Himalayanart.org

17

Ibid.

18

Huntington, Ancient India, 407.

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is more short and stocky figures than the elegant Buddhist style, but the Buddhist style was also
created later than the Hindu sculptures.19
Iconography
Let me start with the iconography of the four-faced Linga with the front view. The
sculpture is more than five-meter high base. The central multithreaded image is very
overwhelming for the visitor. There is a big discussion among scholars because there are only
three faces to look at.20 Each of the faces are different in expression and look and shows halfmale and half-female of Shiva.21 The one on the left shows angry or bad mood attitude with
bulging eyes and flaming mustache.22 The center face and face on the right side are more
relaxed. The front view face shows a heavy lower lip with downcast eyes, which characterizes
the whole face.23 Shiva looks like he is in a meditation state and very relaxed. However, the right
side is more feminine in contrast to the other one because of the curly hair and details of the
jewelry and crown. It is assumed that all three faces represent respectively, Aghora-Bhairava an
angry form of Shiva.24 As Shiva, Aghora-Bhairava, and Uma the three might symbolize the three
fundamental qualities in the universe according to the Hindu religion, consisting of two opposing

19

Ibid.

20

Huntington. Ancient India 279.

21

Ibid.

22

Ibid.

23

Ibid., 275.

24

Ibid., 279.

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forces and their opposition.25 These are forces implying concentration of energy, activity, mental
activity, rhythmic and continuum of space, and time all together forms the power of Shiva. It can
be seen at the image of Elephanta.
Historical Background
On a small island off the coast of Bombay, the Portuguese carved a stone named
Elephanta they have seen there. There are more caves there but more importantly and popular is
the Great Cave because of the big size, scaling, and sculpture heights and architectural
conception. It is the most impressive of South Asia art monuments.26 The Portuguese found an
inscribed stone that could explain the date when it was made but it was removed from the
Portuguese and lost or destroyed from them.27 We dont have an acceptable proof of time of
when it was created.
Proof
Himalayanart.com and Huntington both agree the four Lingua faces sculpture and the
attributes are so different. There is no proof when the cave was made. Huntington assumed
because of the simplicity of the face, the careful depiction of the separate locks of the hair, and
the less amount of jewelry suggest it was made in the first quarter of the fifth century.28
Huntington and Collins agree with each other there is no exactly proof when the cave was

25

Ibid.

26

Huntington, Ancient India, 276.

27

Ibd., 276

28

Ibd., 193

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constructed. Both scholars have almost the same answer, roughly between the first quarter and
the fifth century.
Summary
The Elepthanta is the most dramatic symbol of the power of Shiva. With the image of the
sculpture linga, or phallus with a representation of human heads it brings together the sexual
energy and represent the whole creative energy with the intellect of the universe. It is a very
powerful sculpture and it is used in religion practices as well. In the Hindu religion the lingua is
a very important symbol for their religion praxis. Today, we will not see the difference between
the Buddhist and Hindu art. The viewers most likely cant recognize which is and which isnt.
The viewer can go more into the iconography and look up scholar written statement.

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Resource Type: Artwork, Colors on Wood


Region: Japan 1000-1100
The Avery Brundage Collection, B60S146
Topic: Looking at Art, Beliefs
Seen in Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

Bibliography

Susan & John Huntington: Art of Ancient India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain. 1985

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Collins and Charles Dillard: Iconography and Ritual of Siva at Elephanta


Bhagwant Sahai, iconography of minor Hindu and Buddhist deities,Abhinav Publications, New
Delhi.1975
www.Himalayanart.org