I would like to ask if somebody can help in identifying some of Vishnu’s avataras and two figures belonging to Shiva in the attached image.


The image shows Harihara with Vishnu on the right-hand side of the picture and Shiva on the left-hand side. The image is from the British Museum. It is annotated: Sandstone sculpture of Harihara. Possibly from Khajuraho, about 1.000. Showing on the right-hand side the ten avataras of Vishnu.

I have indicated in the attachment the obvious avataras and some other figures. Note that Vamana can be identified by an umbrella on his shoulder.

I’m unsure about identifying the remaining avataras

  • Krishna

  • Rama

  • Parashurama

  • Buddha

One problem in identifying is that there are 5 figures for those 4 avataras:

  • Figure C or figure D shows Krishna due to the flute before the body of figure D. If the large figure C carries the flute then he is Krishna, but who is figure D? If D carries the flute then he is Krishna, but who is the large figure C? What is shown between the heads of both figures?

    Therefore: Figure C = Krishna?

    Figure D = ???

  • Figure E has a naga attached behind his shoulders. Hence the figure is Krshna's elder brother Balarama. In the list of 10 avataras Balarama sometimes replaces Buddha. Hence

    Figure E = Balarama.

  • Figure A is a 4-armed figure. I assume he is Rama, who sometimes is displayed with 4 arms.

    Therefore: Figure A = Rama?

  • Figure B seems to be Rama with the axe in his left hand.

    Therefore: Figure B = Parashurama?

On Shiva's side I’m unsure about identifying

  • Figure F: I consider Figure F as Shiva dressed as a Brahmin in order to test Parvati before accepting her as his bride.

  • Figure G: Who is he?

Any help would be appreciated.

Update due to answer:

  • Figure C = Parashurama

  • Figure D = Krishna?

  • Figure F = Brahma with sruva, kamandalu, and vedas(?), three heads are shown

  • Figure B = Rama in tribangha pose?

  • This YouTube video provides a closer look of Figure A. The animal to the left looks like a cow. So the avatar could be Krishna and the thing he's holding is the snake Kaliya? Also, check out these pics on Flickr. – sv. Sep 5 '18 at 23:40
  • @sv. Thanks for the two links. I'm still unsure about the identity of figure A. The figure has 4 arms. The two hands in front make a blessing mudra and carry a water pot. The objects of the two back arms are unclear. The animal could be a dog or a cow. IMO representations of Krishna on Kaliya look different. – Jo Wehler Sep 6 '18 at 8:06
  • 1
    @JoWehler Are these figures have to be Vishnu avtars?...I think figure A is Kalabhairava... – YDS Sep 8 '18 at 7:59

Figure C is Parashurama. I got a clearer image of the same statue. We can see an axe in the hands if we zoom closer. That is between him and D.

Figure A is Kala Bhairava. He is four armed. He holds a trident/spear and a kamandalu in bottom left hand, flower in top right hand and has a dog looking at him. This is a dog and not a bull because in the same image, Nandi is shown larger with a bell in his neck. Dog is smaller than bull. Kala Bhairava is accompanied by a dog. There is another particular aspect in him which is different from others. That is a garland coming from his neck till the knee upto kamandalu. This could be a long ornament (which exactly matches with an image of Kalabhairava or a large snake (Kala Bhairava also wears snakes like Shiva) or normally a garland of skulls.

Figure F is seen with three heads and four arms. I don't think it is a form of Shiva meeting Parvati in Brahmachari form. He holds Vedas in top left hand, flower in top right hand (both are not Vedas as there is a clear difference between the both), a kamandalu in bottom left hand and shows a blessing sign. If he observe closely, he also has a beard too. By these characteristics, I strongly think it is Brahma. This matches with the depiction of Brahma with faces towards different directions with beard, Vedas in hands.

This leaves us with the doubt why Brahma is carved twice once on the top and once on the left. It is highly unlikely that the same deity is carved twice. So, the top one above the face of Harihara is not Brahma. He is Surya, the Sun god. It is a general way of representation to show Surya holding lotuses in the hand, especially in medieval period. There is a relation between lotuses and Sun. Such sculptures are also present in Konark Sun temple also. In the image, Surya is seen sitting in padmasana. There are some images found on the internet where he is seen sitting in this posture on his chariot but with conch and discus in hands. But in this image, I think they are omitted to discriminate him with Lord Vishnu. Sun and Varuna are in the opposite directions. Sun indicates east and Varuna is the guardian of west direction. So, this gives more strength that it is Sun who is in the the top of the sculpture.

Clearer image of Khajuraho Harihara idol in British Museum

Image credits : British Museum


Thanks to all information I got I now identify the detail figures as follows:

enter image description here

  • It is less likely that Brahma is carved twice. Once on top and another time on the left. Left figure matches with Brahma because he has four arms, four faces etc., but the top one doesn't seem so. He is holding two lotuses which are a symbol of Sun God. It is a normal representation of Sun in idols with two lotuses and sitting posture.Looking at directions too, Varuna (west) is opposite to Sun (East). So, I think it is Sun and not Brahma. – User9125 Sep 13 '18 at 4:19
  • You hv accepted an answer which says figure A is KalBhairva but here you say it's Surya...Am I missing something? – YDS Sep 13 '18 at 12:20
  • @User9125 and also YDS Thank you for your correction. I corrected the lables. – Jo Wehler Sep 13 '18 at 17:31

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