India, West Bengal
Pala Dynasty (about 750–1200)

Vishnu, the Preserver, with his Consorts, Lakshmi and Sarasvati

12th century

Rajamajal black slate

Gift of William C. Luban


Surrounded by his attributes, Vishnu exudes strength befitting the guide and protector of the faithful. In his four hands he holds traditional symbols: a conch shell for life-giving water, a lotus blossom for rebirth or fertility, a flaming mace, and a solar disk for enlightenment. Female deities surrounding him (his consorts) are symbols of his power. In India, the attributes, style, and representation of Hindu deities are prescribed by religious law. The exceptional quality of the carving, made even more difficult by the hardness of slate, indicates that masterful hands created this superb work of art.

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