In Hindusim, Vishnu is one of the most important male gods. He is considered to be a preserver: when the world is in turmoil he descends as an avatar and intervenes to save things. The faithful venerate the almost life-sized figure of a deity that radiates a profound peace and a sovereign imperturbability.
This South Indian sculpture from the eighth/ninth century depicts Vishnu as a majestic being of serene beauty. And even at first glance you can already see that this figure is no ordinary person! Just like several other Indian divine effigies, this is clear simply from the unnatural number of limbs.
Four arms bear witness to Vishnu’s divine nature: the lower right hand with its palm facing forward signals protection. In the upper hands Vishnu holds his attributes. In his left hand he holds a conch shell (shankha, left). In Indian temples these have been used from ancient times to the present day as a ritual trumpet and bowl for holy water. Between the fingers of the other hand Vishnu balances a throwing disc (chakra, right). It is the god’s “super weapon”, which according to religious accounts is made from glistening sun dust. Small flames dance on the attributes.
Vishnu’s majesty is also revealed in his royal regalia: He wears fine clothes with much jewellery; on his head he wears a high, richly decorated tiara as his crown. Furthermore, the cord worn diagonally across his upper body marks him out as a religious initiate.
In the coming months God Vishnu will stand in the rotunda of the Altes Museum as a rare guest among the ancient Western gods, provoking comparisons with these deities through his richly contrasting presence. In the heart of Berlin he will serve as a forerunner of the South Asian pantheon, which in future will be on display on the third floor of the Humboldt Forum.
Now to be seen in the Altes Museum on Museumsinsel, in future in the museums on the third floor of the Humboldt Forum.
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.
Vishnu, Zeus & Co
Januar 31, 2019, 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.