Phnom Da - Funan (6th - 7th century)



Origin: Dong Thap Province, Viet Nam
Size: inches 18.11 (46 cm)
Provenance: Private Collection Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Cat.-Nr.: khmer056



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This sculpture depicts Vishnu who is in Vishnuism the manifestation of the ultimate reality. Within the trimurti (three figures) he is responsible for the preservation of dharma (the order of nature) within the the universe while Shiva is responsible for destruction and Brahma for creation. For most Cambodian history Shivaism was the state religion but even Vishnuism predominated in some reigns from as early as the sixth century. The aspect of Vishnu most frequently used in Khmer sculpture is that of the God as cakravartin (universal ruler).

This freestanding statue in samabhanga pose (equal distribution of the body limbs on a central line) which was found together with a set of other sculptures still shows many of the Indian Gupta (Mamallapuram, Sarnath, Mathura) stylistic features that are characteristic of the Phom Da sculpture. Still today the remained part of the right upper arm shows that originally this Vishnu had had four arms (caturbhuja) holding the God's attributes: the gada (staff or mace) which stands for the power of knowledge, the cakra (disk), the symbol of power, a ball, representing mahi (the earth) and the sankha (conch) which signifies the origin of existence. As nearly all the statues of this epoch this sculpture too has no jewellery or other decoration to underline the god's strength and dignity. All the statues of the Funan period feature an anatomical realism with muscular bodies which was lost in the classical period.

This extreme rare sculpture wears the characteristic kiritamukata (tall mitre). The long sampot is just adumbrated without folds. The high mitre is found in a pure form at Mamallapuram (India) and even the treatment of the garment with low incised or low relief drapery lines are common in the art from Deogarh (Uttar Pradesh).

The present image has no stand and it is in the original condition as it was found. It is made of greyish hardstone and is overlaid by a black patina of stone-oxydation. Today we know that smaller statues like this not only were found in temples or as burial objects. They also were placed in dwelling houses as objects of the cult.

Latest excavations in Viet Nam near Chau Doc show as a result of C14-radiocarbon dating that these early statues probably should be backdated to a time between 450 and 500.

Dupont, P., La statuaire préangkorienne, 1955, planche XIX, B
Art and Archeology of Fu Nan, ed. by J. Khoo, Bangkok 2004, fig. p.47, p.54
Harihara of the Asram Maha Rosei, Musée Guimet, Paris
Vishnu from Trung-dien, Musée Blanchard de la Brosse

Vishnu Phnom Da
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