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Shiva as Victor of Three Cities (Tripuravijaya), c. 875

India: Tamil Nadu, Tandantottam, 870-880
overall: 30-1/2 x 14-1/2 x - 5/8 in. (77.5 x 36.8 x 14.3 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

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In his iconic form as Shiva the Destroyer of the Three Cities (Tripurantaka), the god is depicted in a heroic stance, with his legs bent in a pose called dvibhanga. Originally, Shiva’s outstretched hands would have held a bow and arrow. According to legend, demons created havoc in three celestial cities. The demons could only be destroyed with a single arrow when the cities converged, which happened rarely. Gods and humans pleaded with Shiva to restore order by destroying the demons. When the cities converged, Shiva shot his arrow, setting all three cities—and the demons—on fire.

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