Obelisk Art History

Bust of Five-Headed Shiva

Khmer Art, 950CE
Bust of Five-Headed Shiva, Khmer Art
Bust of Five-Headed Shiva, zoomed in
80 cmBust of Five-Headed Shiva scale comparison
See Bust of Five-Headed Shiva in the Kaleidoscope

Bust of Five-Headed Shiva is a Khmer Sandstone Sculpture created in 950CE. It lives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The image is used according to Educational Fair Use, and tagged Deities and Gods, Shiva, Trimūrti and Sculpture. Source

A five-headed god may be a disorienting concept to western viewers, so let’s break it down. Meet Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. Shiva is one of the three supreme Hindu gods, the Trimūrti. In this bust, each of Shiva’s heads is a metaphor, representing one of his five aspects: Sadyojāta is fearsome face, Vāmadeva the face of healing, Aghora the face of knowledge, Tatpuruṣa the face of soul and meditation, and Īśāna is the face of the cosmos. Each aspect is also associated with a direction and an element. Shiva’s five aspects are:


Sadyojāta - West, Earth
Vāmadeva - North, Water
Aghora - South, Fire
Tatpuruṣa - East, Air
Īśāna - North-east, Cosmos

Reed Enger, "Bust of Five-Headed Shiva," in Obelisk Art History, Published July 23, 2017; last modified October 08, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/timeline/middle-ages/angkorian-art/bust-of-five-headed-shiva/.

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