A pair of statues related to the Vira Shaiva sect

A female image that came from the Singosari site and is now kept in the MNI is unfortunately badly damaged. It was of a four-armed deity, but the head and feet are missing. Next to her stand two smaller naked females with their hands folded in respect (anjalimudra). Next to them lotus plants rise up towards the lower hands of the deity.

Statue of male, thought to be related to Vira Shaiva sectStatue of female, thought to be related to Vira Shaiva sect

This brings to mind an image, still complete, that is in the MV’s collection. It shows a similar arrangement to the Jakarta image: a main deity with two smaller naked figures and lotus plants rising up to the lower hands. This, however, seems to be a male figure, and the naked figures that accompany him appear to be male too. The jewellery of the female is similar to that of the male figure, though slightly less elaborate.

The two statues, originally with similar dimensions, are clearly related to each other, and it has been suggested by Schnitger and Stutterheim that they belong together and once formed a pair, and that therefore the Leiden statue originated from Singosari as well.

The most interesting aspect of the male image is that it has three miniature yonis (pedestals) for miniature lingas. This seems to indicate that Java was also influenced by the Vira Shaiva sect, which was founded in Karnataka in the twelfth century. The followers of this sect carry lingas on their bodies, nowadays usually in the form of a small linga locked in a pendant on a necklace.

Female image in Jakarta

This statue of a woman, of which the head and feet are missing, has four arms. The two back arms are already rather worn and it is only from the right back hand that it can be seen that she is holding something (but it is not clear what). The two front arms are still in quite good condition. The right hand is holding a string of beads (akshamala) while it looks like the left hand is holding something, perhaps a blossoming lotus, but its poor condition makes it difficult to tell. The two front hands are positioned above opening lotus flowers that sprout left and right from the statue. Near the bottom of the lotus stems are two small accompanying statues, which apparently represent naked female devotees.

These two statues’ hair is loose and without ornamentation; they only have ear ornaments that hang down to the shoulders. The body of the statue is attractive and nicely adorned, but the breasts are damaged. The deity wears a necklace and a sacred cord (upavita) that is shown straddling her middle and reaching down to the middle of the cloth. Belt ornaments hang down to calf-height. The statue has ornaments around her belly and waist (udharabanda). The two arms are decorated with armlets and bracelets.

Male image in Leiden

The Leiden image seems to have been the male counterpart of the damaged female image. It has four hands carrying a club, a shield, a fruit and a rosary, and a small bowl. This uncommon combination of attributes has led to different interpretations. Some scholars have identified the figure as Vishnu, others as Harihara. Pauline Lunsingh Scheurleer has recently identified it as an image of Mahalakshmi in a Vira Shaiva context. Indeed Mahalakshmi has been found in Karnataka in a Vira Shaiva context with exactly these attributes, including a linga on the head.

This image has at the front of his crown a round yoni – the pedestal for a linga, Shiva’s phallic manifestation. There is a second round yoni in front of his navel, while a third slightly larger round yoni stands in front of his feet. The round yonis also point to new influence from India. Round yonis are exceptional in Java, where they are usually square. The yonis do indeed suggest a Vira Shaiva context as Lunsingh Scheurleer has proposed. However, though not very clear, this seems to be a male, not a female, statue.

Like the female image, this image, too, is flanked by two naked attendants, but here they seem to be male. Next to these attendants, who have their hands folded in reverence, two lotus plants rise up in a similar manner to those in the female image. Vira Shaivas sometimes went naked, and female naked devotees are even known to have existed. While the exact identity of the image therefore remains something of an enigma, its Vira Shaiva context seems beyond doubt.