India, Tamil Nadu
Shiva As Lord Who Is Half Male, Half Female (Ardhanarishvara)
14th century

123.5 x 59.4 x 27.3 cm (48 5/8 x 23 3/8 x 10 3/4 in.)
Alsdorf Foundation, 2002.631

This sculpture combines in a single image the god Shiva and his consort, Parvati, "his better half," who is always by his side. In this south Indian sculpture, the gender differences are particularly evident in the fullness of the left breast and contrasting male and female garments. A short dhoti, a traditional loincloth resembling knee-length trousers when tucked into the waist, partly covers the right leg, whereas the left is draped in a longer garment typically worn by women. Parvati's one arm holds a flower.

Shiva has two arms, indicating his powers are superior to Parvati's. The now-lost attribute in the upper hand might have been a battle-ax or trident. His second arm rests casually on the head of his bull, Nandi, who serves as his vahana (transportation) and is an identifying attribute of Shiva.

As the god of destruction and creation, Shiva is said to embody opposites, such as life and death, creation and destruction, and, as shown in this work, male and female. Opposites are best understood when presented together in contrast to one another. The representation of male and female merged into a single figure presents Shiva as the cosmic union of opposites, a fundamental aspect of the Hindu view of the universe.