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Terrifying Form of Shiva, c. 1000

India: Tamil Nadu, 975-1025
9 in. (22.9 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

With matted locks arranged as if they were flames and a bowl made from a skull in his left hand, Shiva appears truly ferocious. A garland of skulls crosses his chest and he wears only a serpent in place of a loincloth.

The skull-bowl recalls Shiva’s Bhairava form, in which he appears as a beggar or an ascetic. When Shiva cut off one of the heads of the god Brahma, Brahma’s skull stuck to his left hand. As penance for striking another god, Shiva wandered the earth seeking alms until the skull fell away. This terrifying guise may also represent Shiva in his Kshetrapala form, as the protector of a temple.

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