Brahma and the rishis

According to the Brahmandapurana the rishis are born of Brahma. There are several groups of rishis. One is a group of seven rishis, whose names, according to the Brahmandapurana, are Marici, Kratu, Atri, Pulastya, Pulaha, Vasistha and Pitris. However, each different time period has a different group of seven rishis, with different names.

Relief of Candi Panataran, with rishi, shaiva and sogata

Also, different texts mention different names. Thus, the Jaiminiya Brahmana gives their names as Vishista, Bharadvaja, Jamdagni, Gautama, Atri, Vishvamitra and Agastya; and the Amshumadbhedagama mentions Manu, Agastya, Vasishtha, Gautama, Anggiras, Vishvamitra and Bharadvaja.

Thus far we have not found a group that includes both Trinavindu and Marici, the names of the two rishi figures that were found at the Singosari site. More remains of rishi images were found at the site, so it appears that originally there were more of them, maybe as many as seven, and most probably with Brahma as their central image. The Brahma image now in Leiden was found near to the two rishi images (Trinavindu and Marici) now in Jakarta.

The arrangement of a central Brahma image with rishis surrounding him is not unique. A similar arrangement is found on the Brahma temple of the Loro Jonggrang complex in Prambanan, Central Java. Inside the temple is a large standing statue of Brahma, while the outer wall of the balustrade is covered with rishi types, characterized by their ascetic hairdo.

The rishis formed an important group in ancient Javanese society. They frequently figure among the various religious groups that Old Javanese texts mention. Three groups, the rishi (hermits), the shaiva (Shaivas) and the sogata (Buddhists) are mentioned most often. The three groups are sometimes called the tripaksha (the three denominations). We also see them represented in a narrative relief on Candi Panataran (Blitar): a rsi in front with a turban-like headdress, a shaiva behind him with a knot hanging in the neck, and then a Buddhist (sogata) with bald head.


The four heads (one at the back) make this statue instantly recognisable as Brahma, the Hindu god who created the world. He is depicted as an ascetic, with strands of tangled hair wound around his head schematically, like a crown. He has a beard and a moustache here, as befits his ascetic nature. His hands form a gesture of meditation. His half-closed eyes similarly denote his absorption in meditation. His mount, the goose, is depicted in relief on the back slab. Lotus plants with two water vessels decorate the sides. The water vessels have an unusual shape, derived from Chinese examples.

Together with Vishnu and Shiva, the most important gods of Hinduism, Brahma ensures the world's existence. Brahma creates the world; Vishnu ensures that it is preserved by maintaining the right equilibrium between divine and demonic forces, and Shiva destroys the world when demonic forces become too powerful and the equilibrium can no longer be restored. At that point, Brahma can re-create the world and the cycle recommences.

Various myths refer to the rivalry that exists between Vishnu and Shiva. One myth states that Brahma is born after Vishnu, from a lotus flower that rises from Vishnu's navel. According to another, Vishnu and Brahma are arguing about who is the supreme god. Amid this debate, a great pillar of fire rises between them. The pillar is so big that neither the top nor the bottom of it can be seen. Vishnu turns into a wild boar and digs his way into the ground to reach the bottom of the pillar of fire. Brahma flies into the air in the form of a goose to try to reach the top. However, neither the top nor the bottom can be found. At this point, Shiva emerges from the pillar, and Brahma and Vishnu are forced to concede that he is greater and more powerful than they are.


This statue was registered in 1887 as inventory number 63 of the Archaeological Collection of the Batavian Society. It was found to the south of the square (alun-alun), intact, except for a damaged nose, standing at 153 cm tall. Unfortunately, the statue suffered from fire damage when it was at the Colonial Exhibition in Paris in 1931.

Trinavindu is not mentioned as one of the seven rishis as far as we know. In the Vishnupurana he is mentioned as one of the Vyasadevas, the divine sages, who in different periods divided the Vedas into four. In this group he features as no. 23. He and his daughter are also mentioned in the Ramayana.

The statue shows a standing, corpulent figure, with a moustache and a beard. His right hand is in front of his chest, holding a string of prayer beads (akshamala), while his left hand hangs down by his side and holds a water vessel (kundika). The caste cord is slung over his left shoulder. He wears a long cloth down to his ankles. The cloth looks to be thin and is tied with a belt. Accessories hang down from the belt to his knees. On his head he wears a high crown. Both arms have beaded bracelets on the wrists and lower arms. Behind his head is an oval-shaped halo (prabha) with two broad ribbons flapping upward. The Trinavindu figure is standing between a trident on his right and a lotus flower blossoming out from a small pot on his left. On his left shoulder lies a fly-whisk (camara), with its handle under his armpit. To the left of his head, on the back support of the statue, there is an inscription in Nagari script that reads ‘Bhagavan Ṭrinavindu Maharshi 2’, which identifies this statue as the great rishi Trinavindu.  


Marici is known as one of the seven rishis. He is, for instance, mentioned as such in the Brahmandapurana.

This statue was found heavily damaged; only some fragments from the abdomen to the head remain. Its face is damaged and only parts of a head ornament, which suggest an ascetic’s headdress (with matted hair tied upon the head), are visible. The head has a halo (prabhamandala). The, somewhat bulging, belly is also damaged. The right arm is missing, and of the left arm only the upper part remains. Near the left shoulder is what looks like a fly-whisk (camara). Although in very poor condition, on the upper left of the back plate an inscription in Nagari script reads: ‘Bhagavan Marici Maharshih, 1’, which identifies the image as the great sage (rishi) Marici.