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Anthropology

The Lord of Soil (sabdag)

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The Lord of Soil (sabdag)
Early 20th Century

Place of Origin: Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Materials: Metal
Dimensions: Lt. 43 Wd. 92 cm. (approx.)
Acc. No. 91.139

This mystic image composed of a large golden coloured metallic skull and a detachable trident of iron representing blazing flames, depicting Sabdag, a local deity, worshipped in and around Spiti valley as the guardian deity of hills and their inhabitants. The skull represents the ferocious form of Lord Shiva and according to the local Shaivite cult Sabdag is essentially a regional transformation of Shiva's Bhairava manifestation. Since Bhairava often wears a skull garland on his neck, Sabdag's essential image is the skull. The other components of the image also depict the characteristics of Shiva, mainly the trident and the flames representing His emanating energy.

Besides the wide open mouth with teeth exposed in full and the eye apertures, the skull is marked with a cranial suture having a slit at the apex to fix the trident. Sabdag icons are usually placed on the roof-tops of monasteries, or on the top of their entrances, believing that the evil and demonic spirits are destroyed by its vision and expelled from the holy site.

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The Lord of Soil (sabdag)