Cosmic Form of Eighteen-Armed Vishnu

India. 11th century Sandstone 2001.1.4 Ester R. Portnow Collection of Asian Art, a Gift of the Nathan Rubin-Ida Ladd Family Foundation

This highly unusual form of Vishnu in cosmic manifestation shows his supremacy through delicate architectural relief. Like the Durga sculpture, he stands in the three-fold (tribhanga) pose of gracefulness, with two worshippers in the honorific (namaskara) pose at his feet. Dressed in adhoti and surrounded by numerous attendants, he is fully jeweled with arm bands, ankle cuffs, meditation cords, and beaded disk earrings. The halo behind him is held up by two of his avatars, or manifestations-the boar-headed Varaha on the left and the lion-head Narasimha on the right. Vishnu's eighteen arms hold numerous weapons, including his mace, conch shell, and discus. He also holds weapons of other gods, such as the trident of Shiva, the lotus of Brahma, and the skull-headed post which symbolizes ascetic power.

Seeing all of these weapons in such fine relief, the worshipper would have been struck by Vishnu in his supremacy, embodying the powers of the universe and capable of infinite manifestations in order to save the world.

Download a Carlos Conversations podcast in which Joyce Flueckiger and Laurie Patton, Professors in Emory's Department of Religion, discuss this image.