As if striding down a catwalk, this almost life-sized Zebu bull exudes elegance. This magnificent specimen once served as God Shiva’s mount in a Hindu temple in South India. During major temple festivals a splendidly decorated bronze image of the god was mounted on the wooden bull and driven around the temple in a ceremonial procession.
The elaborately designed, lifelike reproduction of a white Zebur bull is not just any old bull: in Hinduism the humped bull Nandi is the companion and devout follower of Shiva, one of the main Hindu deities, which many faithful consider to be the manifestation of the Most High. In pictures Nandi is often depicted in the immediate proximity of his lord or as his mount. His exemplary proximity to Shiva also made him an object of veneration.
As part of the procession culture, he is of vital importance to millions of believers in India. In South Indian temple cities, Nandis made from wood or metal serve as a means of transport (vāhana) for the portable effigies of Shiva and his wife. Processions with images of deities within the temple complex form part of the daily ritual, especially in South India.
The processions on feast days are even more spectacular. Here Shiva, in the form of his portable devotional image, is magnificently decorated and driven or carried on shoulders out of the temple and through public areas. This enables everyone, whoever they are, to see the deity and thus experience his benedictory presence. On such occasions Shiva always appears on his mount.
At the entrance to Shiva temples one often encounters Nandis in the form of stone sculptures – sometimes of monumental proportions. They are always oriented towards the central devotional image inside the temple. For many Shiva worshippers, Nandi’s complete devotion to his master makes him a role model worthy of veneration. At the same time he is also seen as a mediator to whom the devout can entrust their wishes, which he then passes on to the god. For this reason the faithful are wont to whisper their wishes in Nandi’s ear.
As widespread as he is in South India, he is rarely found in Western collections – especially in such good condition as the Berlin specimen which originates from the nineteenth or early twentieth century. After entering the former collection of the Museum für Indische Kunst (today part of the Museum für Asiatische Kunst) as a gift in 1987, he stood in storage in Dahlem for many years. In the Humboldt Forum he will stand between bronze processional images and stone gods at the centre of the Hinduism section.
Now to be seen in the Pergamonmuseum on Museumsinsel, in future in the museums on the third floor of the Humboldt Forum.
The Tagesspiegel newspaper reveals some new insights into Nandi in the article “Wenn Nandi würdig grüßt” (Nandi’s Esteemed Greeting). More on this theme can also be viewed in the television programme rbb Kultur – Das Magazin, broadcast on 27 October 2018.
International experts, eye witnesses and representatives from the Humboldt Forum will be adressing questions in various conversations. They will weave exciting stories and histories from different cultures and epochs, current research results and personal experiences to create surprising and sometimes astounding narratives.
Processions – Pilgrims – Parades
26. Oktober 2018, 7.30pm
Discover the first Humboldt Forum Highlights in the Pergamonmuseum, Altes Museum and Neues Museum on Museum Island. The Highlights will be on display until october 2019.
The first 15 of these Humboldt Forum Highlights will be presented between October 2018 and May 2019 in two formats: in an exhibition as well as during conversations that will be held at various locations in Berlin.