Gold Sculpture of Vishnu Riding on the Shoulders of Garuda

SKU CK.0051

900 AD to 1300 AD


7.25″ (18.4cm) high x 3.5″ (8.9cm) wide





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Like much of Southeast Asia, the island of Java (today a part of the archipelago nation of Indonesia) has historically been highly influenced by Indian civilization. The religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, both originating from the subcontinent, were the vehicles through which Indian culture spread across Java and the greater archipelago region. However, due to its location near the strategic Straights of Malacca, one of the most important maritime routes in the world, Java was also exposed to many other cultural influences. As Buddhism began to spread in China, Chinese pilgrims would often stop in Java en route to the holy sites in India. Like other cultures exposed to foreign influences, the Javanese did not practice wholesale assimilation, but instead opted to pick and choose certain elements that appealed to their tastes, incorporating them into their own culture, while altogether ignoring other aspects.

Before the spread of Islam into the archipelago beginning in the 13th century and the rise of various Muslim states in the following centuries, Hinduism and Buddhism flourished in Java and beyond. Even after the majority of Java converted to Islam, certain Hindu customs and beliefs persisted among the greater population. While Hinduism and Buddhism share several similarities, the type practiced in Java was syncretic, combining certain features with native traditions. Hindu and Buddhist maritime kingdoms began to emerge on the archipelago at the end of the first millennium. Srivijaya was perhaps the most dominant. Although based in Sumatra, the Srivijaya Kingdom was allied with the Buddhist Saliendra Dynasty (the builders of Borobudur, the largest Buddhist structure in the world) who controlled Java. As the power of the Saliendras began to wane, a rival Indianized kingdom began to take over. Known as the Matarams, from their base in Central Java, this kingdom quickly rose to prominence, becoming a serious rival to Srivijaya hegemony.

This intricate gold sculpture depicts the god Vishnu seated atop the shoulders of his winged mount Garuda, who in turn stands upon the shell of a turtle. Vishnu is one of the most important deities in the Hindu pantheon. Though he has many avatars, he is typically represented as he is seen here: a four-armed human. In each of his hands, he carries one of his divine attributes. In this case, they are the conch shell, the chakra (or wheel), the flywhisk (a symbol of royalty), and the vajra (or thunderbolt). The bird-like creature Garuda is represented with the body of a human and the head and wings of an eagle. In Hindu mythology, he transports Vishnu to the battlefield and carries him between the heavens and earth. In many ancient mythologies, including Hinduism, the turtle is believed to carry the earth upon its back, separating it from the oceans. Symbolically, the turtle may refer to the terrestrial realm, while Vishnu represents the divine and Garuda facilitates the link between the two.

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