Shiva and Vishnu Seated in a Garden
9 3/16 x 6 in. (23.3 x 15.2 cm)
Medium and Support:
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold paint on paper
Gift of Miss Margaret M. Whalen
Location: Not currently on view
According to Indian Hinduism, three gods comprise the Trimurti, or sacred trinity: Brahma, the Creator; Shiva, the Destroyer, and Vishnu, the Preserver. In this illustration from an illuminated Hindu manuscript, two of these gods-Shiva on the left and Vishnu on the right-are shown discussing religious or philosophical matters.
In religious art, the identity of most figures can be established by their attributes, or distinctive physical characteristics or objects. Here, Shiva is portrayed as androgynous, pale-skinned, and half nude, which represents his transcendental nature and his embodiment of the union of male and female. His posture shows his status as an ascetic yogi; the tiger skin on which he sits represents his conquest of pride and control over the mind. Seated on a throne to Shiva's right, the preserver god Vishnu has skin "the color of dark clouds." He is traditionally shown with four arms holding sacred and symbolic objects. His front arms signify his activity in the physical world; those in back, his role in the spiritual realm.