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Archaeology

Vishnu Vaikuntha

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Vishnu Vaikuntha
9th century AD.

Place of Origin: Kashmir
Materials: Bronze
Dimensions: 39x19x12 cm
Acc. No. 80.1210

This very rare, queerly conceived and exceptionally ornate bronze image with four heads, three visible and at the back, the central one being in human form - Vasudeva, while that on the right, Narasimha - Sankarshana: half man and half animal, and the third on the left, Boar - Aniruddha: animal, represents a form of the Vishnu known in the iconographic tradition as Vishnu Vaikuntha. The fourth unseen is known as Pradumnya: Kapila head, Vishnu's 'raudra' or wrathful form. Vishnu Vaikuntha literally means 'Vishnu Cohesion' or 'Vishnu Samagra' - absolute. This form of Vishnu is part of Kashmiri Vaishnava cult. Vishnu's cohesive form, the three visible heads of Vishnu Vaikuntha stands for all three classes of living beings: man, animal and semi-man suggestive of supernatural, mythical and divine beings to include gods and all spiritual beings, the invisible fourth, all manifest and unmanifest universe. The Vishnu dharmottara Purana, the earliest text that alludes to this form, perceives Vishnu Vaikuntha as the metaphysical Vaishnava principle, not mythical or legendary.

The image of the four-headed and four-armed Vishnu Vaikuntha has been conceived as standing in mild 'tri-bhanga' posture installed on a rectangular pedestal. Vishnu is flanked by two human figures : his personified attributes, mace or 'gada', as Gada Devi, and disc or 'chakra' as Chakrapurusha, both are bearing flywhisks. A tiny image of Goddess Earth has also been represented between Vishnu's feet. Adorned heavily with ornaments and a crown, thedeity places one of his hands upon the head of Gada Devi, and the other, on Chakrapurusa whereas the other two hands hold his other attributes, the lotus and the conch. A part of his hair, braided and elegantly dressed, lay over the shoulders, while the rest is gathered up into a conical knot on top of the head. His 'antariya' has been put on by using two different styles, one for right leg, and other, for left. The eyes are inlaid with silver. The image has been installed on a high rectangular pedestal provided with a drain-pipe for draining out liquid - water or milk, offered to the deity. The initial Vishnu Vaikuntha images, reported from Gupta period, are three-headed. The fourth was added in about 8th century in Kashmir under its own Vaishnava cult. Its name Kapila is sometimes linked with sage Kapila, the founder of Sankhya philosophy sometimes considered as one of Vishnu's incarnations.

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