A ferocious but protective being, this kala head was once part of a lintel installed over a temple doorway. Also known as banaspati, kala imagery appears on Hindu and Buddhist temples throughout Southeast Asia and India, usually in the form of a bodiless head with open mouth and curving fangs. Kala devours time and those who pass beneath are considered symbolically swallowed before being reborn as they emerge on the other side of the doorway.
In one origin tale, the Hindu god Shiva created an ogre to eat an insolent spirit but later released the spirit. Disappointed, the hungry ogre asked what he could eat instead, to which Shiva replied, “yourself”. The ogre then consumed his own flesh until his head was all that remained. Pleased with the ogre’s unexpected obedience, Shiva promised him a place high on every temple and shrine.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Asian gallery extended display label