Nandi, the bull of Siva
Deccan or South India, 16th-17th century

Indian Art, Gallery 20


Focus on the Object

Sculpted in hard basalt stone, this charming image of a young Indian humped bull (bos indicus) is ceremonially decorated with chains, bells and ornaments. It would have occupied a prominent position in one of the thousands of Indian temple complexes devoted to the god Siva. The bull reclines with one foreleg tucked aside and the other half-raised; he licks his nostril with his tongue. This Nandi bull has the typically sweet and beguiling expression of Indian bovines, which has made them a favourite animal subject for Indian sculptors and painters over the centuries.

The sculpture is beautifully carved with full, rounded volumes and smoothly flowing planes, relieved by intricate surface ornament, which are typical of the Indian sculptor’s art. Compare for example, in case 3 on the right, the differing treatment of the little gold figure of a (non-Asiatic) bull from ancient Bactria or Ganhara (modern Afganistan and Pakistan), where Greco-Roman naturalistic influences were strong in the late centuries BC and early centuries AD.