Punitavati, Shiva Saint, c. 1050, bronze, 19 5/8” x 8 7/8”, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, Photo by Jacquelyn Mata, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Punitavati, the Shiva Saint: A Love That Lasts Centuries

Jacquelyn Mata, a student at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX, wrote this post.

This beautiful yet haunting bronze sculpture portrays Punitavati, a Shiva Saint and a member of the Shaiva Nayanars, or “slaves of lord.”  Hindus believe priests summoned deities into these immobilized bronze sculptures, which became objects of worship during the Chola dynasty.

This sculpture depicts the legend of Punitavati, who discovers that her god, Shiva, bestowed on her the gift of holy powers. Her husband, terrified by this newfound power, leaves his devoted and faithful wife for another family. When Punitavati discovers his whereabouts, she begs Shiva to rid her of her beauty and then makes a pilgrimage to the Himalayas. Shiva, so moved by her devotion, allows Punitavati to join his troupe of saints and dance eternally as his adoring slave.

This statue clearly is a depiction of post-transformation Punitavati, after she changed to a ghoulish figure. Although her features are frightening, her posture and form are elegant.