Object Record

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Catalog number 2003.4.1
Title Tribal Mask of Shiva
Date 18th - 19th Century AD
Object Name Mask
Description Tribal mask of Shiva. This mask of Shiva from the Buta tribe in Southern India shows an intimidating face with bulging eyes, sharp pointed nose, and a demonic smile with pointed teeth and overgrown fangs. The face is decorated with traditional ornaments, including round earrings, a beaded chain below the chin, and a crown that projects outward from the brow with small dangling drops representing leaves. The outward projection of the crown signifies his divinity. On his forehead are sun, moon, and fire motifs, known as the three eyes of Shiva.

This mask is of a Shivate diety, possibly Shiva, and was kept in a shrine until festival time when it was taken out for use.

The workmanship of the mask is very sophisticated. It was cast in the lost-wax process, using an alloy of zinc, copper, and other metals. Small details such as the leaves were added by hand. Most likely, the style was borrowed from Indian palace-style metalwork of the eighteenth of nineteenth centuries.

Masks such as this were kept in shrines until festival time, when they were taken out for use in traditional tribal festivals of Saivism, a Hindu sect that followed the teachings of Shiva but took the concept of the Trinity from Christianity after its introduction in India during the 5th century. Various elements of the mask, like the terrifying face itself, are symbolic.

In Hinduism, Shiva is represented in many ways. One of the most recognized forms is Shiva Nataraja, or Lord of the Dance, who expressed his boundless energy in awe-inspiring dance. In our representation, Shica is the destroyer of the cosmos. Thus his intimidating facial features are purposefully rendered to inspire terror.

The three motifs on his forehead, known as the three eyes of Shiva, are very important in Shivaist iconography. The motif of the crescent moon represents the power of procreation, coexistent with that of destruction. The moon represents the cup of offerings and the measure of time in the days and months of the year. Fire, or the "eye of fire," is symbolic of higher perception It looks inward, but when directed outward it putifies all that appears before it. The sun expresses Shiva's control over all of time-- past, present, and future."

Citation: Extract taken from "The Light of Infinite Wisdom: Asian Art from the Godwin-Ternbach Museum and other Collections", pp. 35-36.
Medium/Material Brass, copper and zinc
Dimensions H-10 W-10 inches
Year Range from 1700.0
Year Range to 1899.0
Search Terms Asian
South Asia
18th century AD
19th century AD
Exhibition and Publication History * "The Light of Infinite Wisdom: Asian Art from the Godwin-Ternbach Museum and Other Collections," A. Winter, X. Lin, Curators, G-TM, October 15-December 20, 2003, pg. 35. Also used in accompanying Student Activity Guide, "Face-to-Face with Asian Art"

Culture Indian/Buta tribe of Kerala