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About This Artwork
Head of a Male Deity (Deva), Angkor period, late 12th–early 13th century
87.0 x 45.7 x 40.6 cm (34 1/4 x 18 x 16 in.)
Samuel M. Nickerson Fund, 1924.41
Not on Display
This imposing, colossal head was once part of an eight-foot-tall kneeling deity from a set of fifty-four statues that lined one side of a causeway leading up to the south entry of the Bayon Temple at the imperial Khmer capital of Angkor Thom, in Angkor, Cambodia. Although the temple was built by the powerful king Jayavarman VII (1181-1218), a follower of Buddhism, some scholars believe that the statues illustrate the Hindu myth of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Both the gods and the demons on the opposite side of the causeway hold the giant serpent Vasuki in their arms in a tug of war to obtain amrita, the nectar of immortality. Another interpretation is that the statues represent guardian figures, with the symbolic protection of the snake, separating and delimiting the world of the sacred from that of the profane. The gods and demons both frown protectively as they guard the entrance to the temple, but they are distinguishable by the shape of their eyes and their headgear. The gods, as demonstrated by this head, have almond eyes, a diadem, long earrings, and a conical chignon decorated with five rows of lotus leaves. The demons have round eyes, furrowed brows, long hair, and fantastical headdresses. An architectural masterpiece, Angkor Thom illustrates the syncretic relationship of the Hindu and Buddhist belief systems of Southeast Asia.