Shiva is ithyphallic, a very characteristic feature noted in other early depictions.2 (Fig. 4 – see ill. in end notes). The linga is carved at a rather low position, which lets the lower part of the belly free whereas in most known cases, it reaches indeed the navel. The imposing lower part of the belly below the navel reminds one of the potbellied Yaksha from Parkham, some 22 km south of Mathura, with which further features are shared (Figs. 5 & 6)3 a broad and flat loincloth attached at the thick girdle falls in the back over the long pleated skirt and similar pleats are to be seen, incised, on the back of the Yaksha. The loincloth was knotted on the left hip, with the long and heavy extremities falling along the leg which are now broken away. The cloth of the skirt forms very narrow circular folds on the right thigh, which end vertically on the left thigh, a feature also noted on the Parkham image which has been variously dated between 150 B.C. and the first century B.C.4 As in any nascent iconography, rules are not fixed and the images betray attempts or experiments made in various directions; some Shiva images integrate the depiction of a lion, other ones of a bull, some wear the skin of a feline, an element which the artist apparently chose to hint at, with a circular face and paws covering the right knee5 (Fig. 7 – see ill. in end notes).
The jewels adorning the deity, i.e. the flat V-shaped necklace, the numerous rings forming a broad bracelet and the heavy pendants of the belt, which fall on the right leg, are all found in early carvings, for instance, those from the balustrade of the Bharhut stûpa. The god holds his right hand at the level of the shoulder whereas the left one was probably lying above the knot of the loincloth carved on his left hip: again, this is a position which is inherited from the Yaksha iconography, and which will be preserved up to the Kushan period in the images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.
The female image is much more damaged being broken at the level of the waist. Two long braids fall on the waist in the back, and as on the back of the Parkham Yaksha, the flat belt lies above the hips and the long skirt has concentric pleats which are carved below the buttock. Her left hand lying above the hip is also a classical gesture displayed in this early period6 – and she most probably held the right hand at the level of her shoulder. The thin belt is simply knotted and lies above the very broad and flat one which covers the hips; the loincloth falling across the thighs is knotted on the left hip: similar ones are also noted in images from the second century B.C. up to the beginning of our era.7
Both deities stand above a square and solid base; carved in the round, they show very massive forms, another feature typical of the pre-Kushan period where artists did not yet dare to carve through the stone, for instance between the legs. These forms are, however, not rigid: movement is introduced in the legs with the left one slightly bent and put forward and with the swaying attitude of Umâ, a feature which reminds us that Shiva is driven by a deep feeling of creation. Fundamental elements of the god iconography are here displayed, like his ithyphallism and his personality combining male and female, letting the devotee feel and acknowledge the strong and universal divine presence.
1 S.H. Siddiqi, “Two newly discovered pre-Kuṣāna Sculptures from Rṣikeśa (Uttar Pradesh)”, in: U.P. Shah & Krishna Deva (eds), Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, special Number: Dr. Moti Chandra Commemoration Volume, 1978, pp. 76-80 & pl. XXV. The male figure is reproduced by Kreisel 1986, fig. 70 and Srinivasan 1984, pl. 23.
2 Gerd Kreisel, Die Śiva-Bildwerke der Mathurā-Kunst, Ein Beitrag zur frühhinduistischen Ikonographien, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GmbH, 1986, figs. 70-76 & pp. 91-92; Doris Meth Srinivasan, “Significance and Scope of Pre-Kuṣāna Śaivite Iconography”, in: Michael W. Meister (ed.), Discourses on Śiva, Proceedings of a Symposium on the Nature of Religious Imagery, Bombay: Vakils, Feffer & Simons Ltd., 1984, pp. 32-46.
3 The Yaksha bears the name of Manibhadra in the inscription incised on it: Gritli von Mitterwallner, “Yakṣas of Ancient Mathurā”, in: Doris Meth Srinivasan (ed.), Mathurā, The Cultural Heritage, New Delhi: Manohar/American Institute of Indian Studies, 1989, pp. 368-382, pls. 35.I-II & pp. 368-371. Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, History of early Stone Sculpture at Mathura, ca. 150 B.C.-100 A.D., Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007, figs. 15-17 & pp. 26-31. Compare also to Quintanilla 2007: figs. 94-95 for the treatment of the back and for the necklace.
4 Quintanilla 2007 dates the image “ca. 150 B.C.” and Mitterwallner in the 1st Cent. B.C. This feature of the garment is also noted around 100 B.C. at Bharhut for instance (Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, La sculpture de Bharhut, Paris: Vanoest, 1956, figs. 16bis-19, e.g).
5 See N.P. Joshi, “Early Forms of Śiva”, in: Michael W. Meister (ed.), Discourses on Śiva, Proceedings of a Symposium on the Nature of Religious Imagery, Bombay: Vakils, Feffer & Simons Ltd., 1984, pp. 47-61.
6 For instance at Bharhut: Coomaraswamy 1956, figs. 46-49.
7 Quintanilla 2007, figs. 39-40, 42, 271, for instance; Coomaraswamy 1956, figs. 1-21, 37, 40-42, 44-45, 48-49 for the narrow belt knotted on the front.