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9th C. Indian Sandstone Frieze Panel, Vishnu Avatars

North India, Pala Dynasty, ca. 9th to 10th c. CE. A hand-carved stone depiction of various incarnations of Vishnu strongly influenced by the Gupta style of the late 4th to late 6th centuries, depicting "Krishna Leela" or "Stories of Krishna", similar to those traditionally found in ruins in and around the Mathura region of North India. Mathura was the birthplace of Krishna as well as a prominent seat of Vaishnavism and the Bhakti cult during ancient times. Wood block stand. Size: 14.625" L x 7.75" H (37.1 cm x 19.7 cm); 9.75" H (24.8 cm) with stand.

This frieze depicts the first five avatars of Vishnu. The first represents a fish, also known as the "Matsya" Avatara, with a myth very similar to the Noah's Ark story in Christianity and the Gilgamesh flood story in ancient Sumerian mythology about god causing a flood to eliminate evil from the earth. The second avatar is that of a turtle called the "Kurma" Avatara with an associated myth in which Lord Vishnu helps the "devas" and "asuras" churn the ocean of milk to obtain the nectar of immortality. An interesting note here is that the first two incarnations show Vishnu symbolically rather than in the human form. Other examples depict the first incarnation of Vishnu as half human and half fish. The third avatar depicts the "Varaha" avatara where Lord Vishnu assumes a boar form and rescues "Bhoodevi" or "Mother Earth" from an asura. The fourth avatar represents "Narasimha" - the half human and half lion avatara that Vishnu becomes to kill the asura by the name of "Hiranyakashipu" who could not be killed by a human, god, or animal, could not be killed during the day or night, could not be killed on land or water. Answering to this, Narashimha tore open his abdomen placing Hiranyakashipu on his lap, and took this form at dusk. This incarnation may also be interpreted as "Balarma" since, the weapon that figure is holding looks like a mace. The fifth avatar is "Vamana" where Lord Vishnu assumes the form of a dwarf to humble King Bahubali, the king of the Asuras. Though not depicted here, the sixth through ninth incarnations are as follows: The sixth avatar is that of "Parashurama" where Lord Vishnu takes the form of the axe wielding ascetic. The seventh avatar is that of "Rama" - the eighth that of "Krishna", and the ninth avatar represents "Gautama Buddha" which replaced the avatar of "Balarama" as one of the earlier avatara. This idea was incorporated during the 17th/18th centuries when the Indian freedom struggle against the British took shape, with an aim to unite the common mass irrespective of their caste or religion.

Condition: A section with slight repairs to one end. Expected surface wear with some mineral deposits. Imagery is quite vivid.

Provenance: Ex-Iyer Collection, North Carolina; Ex-Naomi Lindstorm collection. Ms. Lindstorm was an avid collector of ancient Southeast Asian art and jewelry. She acquired this piece during one of many trips as an employee for Pan Am airlines.

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