, The six-headed Skanda [Karttikeya] Enlarge 1 /1

On display on Level 1

Chola dynasty (9th-13th centuries) India
The six-headed Skanda [Karttikeya] 12th century Place made: Tamil Nadu, India
Materials & Technique: sculptures, basalt stone granite
Dimensions: 130.0 h x 110.0 w x 40.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2006
Accession No: NGA 2006.672
Provenance:
  • The supplied chain of ownership for this object is being reviewed and further research is underway. The provenance information listed has been substantiated by documentation. Details may be refined and updated as research progresses.
  • with art dealer Chin-Tsai Loo (CT Loo), Paris, 1957 or before
  • with his daughter Olga Loo, 1957
  • by descent to her son Patrick Cardosi, 1959
  • who sold it to art dealership Jacques Barrère Arts d'Extrême-Orient, Paris, 1993
  • who sold it through art dealership Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch, London
  • to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2006 for EUR 180,000

Skanda is the Hindu god of war and the son of Shiva. According to one of numerous legends about his birth, Skanda was born of Shiva’s seed and nurtured by six celestial nymphs of the Krittakas constellation (the Pleiades). The child developed six heads to satisfy each of the mothers who cared for him. In another account Agni, the god of fire, and Ganga, goddess of the river Ganges, produced Skanda to act as a substitute general for the gods while Shiva was away performing penance. Skanda is known by many names, reflecting the history of the god as an amalgamation of different deities from older cults.

This twelfth-century Chola-period sculpture shows the six-faced god seated in the position of royal ease (lalitasana) upon his vehicle, the peacock. Skanda has twelve arms, which hold attributes including a sword, a mace, a thunderbolt (vajra), a shield, a trident and a lotus. Skanda wears an elaborate crown and heavy circular earrings, several necklaces and a beaded cord that winds across his torso. Holding a snake in its beak, the peacock stands on a lotus pedestal, which also supports an arched, flame-edged aureole with a stylised lotus at its apex.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

Skanda, the Hindu god of war, is known by many names, including Karttikeya, Kumara, Mahasena, Subrahmanya and Murugan. His various titles may reflect the fact that he is an amalgamation of a number of older deities from different local cults.

There are several versions of Skanda’s genesis. According to one, he was born of Shiva’s seed which was nurtured by the constellation of the six Krittakas (also known as the Pleiades). The child developed six heads, one for each of the six celestial mothers who cared for him. In another account, the deity Agni and Ganga the goddess of the river Ganges produced a child, Skanda, to act as a surrogate general for the gods while Shiva was away performing penance.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Asian gallery extended display label