A mandala of the Hindu deity Durga

A mandala is a cosmic diagram used as an aid to meditation. The central deity represents the Hindu goddess Durga in her manifestation as Mahishasuramardini, slayer of the buffalo demon. She stands triumphant with her eighteen arms brandishing various weapons, while dispatching with her trident the demon Mahisha, who has just emerged from the decapitated buffalo. The lotus petals surrounding Durga contain the Eight Mother Goddesses. The Hindu Triad, consisting of Shiva (riding on the bull Nandi), Brahma (on the swanlike Hamsa), and Vishnu (on Garuda) surmounts the mandala. The gods are flanked by Surya (the sun on the left), and Chandra (the moon on the right). The rest of the planetary deities are shown on the bottom.

Architectural panel

This panel is part of a wide marble band that once encircled the central courtyard of the royal palace of Sultan Ala’ al-Daulah Mas’ud III (born 1061), the twelfth ruler of the Ghaznavid dynasty. The band comprised more than five hundred such panels and was 820 feet (250 meters) in length. Only forty-four panels were found in their original position. Many others, including this one, had been reused elsewhere in Ghazni after the palace fell into disuse. This is one of the few complete examples known to exist outside Afghanistan. Each panel carried a small part of an overall inscription, a poem eulogizing the ancestors of Mas’ud III and describing his achievements. This panel is one of the first examples on which the Persian language was used instead of Arabic for a monumental inscription. Originally, the inscription was painted in ultramarine blue against a red background, a common color scheme at the time (the colors have since deteriorated).

Miniature shrine with the Hindu deity Vishnu sleeping on the cosmic ocean

The universe has been destroyed. In the interval before it is recreated, nothing is left but limitless ocean. On this ocean floats Vishnu, lying on a serpent, asleep. The universe now persists, like a dream, within the sleeping god. When the time is right, he will put forth from his navel the god Brahma, who will reconstruct the universe, and the cycle will begin again.

This form of Vishnu, asleep on the cosmic ocean, is the central image of one of the most important Hindu temples in southern India, the Shri Ranganatha Temple at Shrirangam. This miniature shrine is an abbreviated representation of that vast temple. Its general form recalls the temple’s towers, and the dome shape in its upper part recalls the superstructure of the temple’s central building. In front of the dome-shaped element in both the miniature and the real building is an arched panel with a standing half-figure of Vishnu in a special form as the ultimate supreme deity. Below the reclining Vishnu is another standing Vishnu flanked by his consorts, a pair of door guardians, and other figures.

The Bonpo deity Kungsang Galwa Dupa

Kunsang Galwa Dupa, the principal tranquil deity in the pantheon of the Bonpo religion (which coexisted with Buddhism in Tibet), has five heads and ten hands. He sits with the soles of his four feet facing upward. The hands in front of his chest hold sun and moon discs inscribed with the Tibetan letters A and Ma; these symbols help us to recognize this image as Bonpo rather than Buddhist. Among Kunsang Galwa Dupa’s symbolic implements is the swastika, the Bonpo equivalent of the Buddhist thunderbolt, symbolizing indestructibility and good fortune. The square pedestal below the lotus throne is guarded by a dragon, an elephant, a lion, a horse, and a peacock. This image wears a type of five-leaf crown peculiar to western Tibet. The modeling of the body and the silver inlay in the eyes show a distinct influence from the art of Kashmir in northern India and Pakistan. Images from the Bonpo religion are rare in museum collections.

The Hindu deities Krishna and Satyabhama riding Garuda

Here Krishna rides the splendid Garuda, frequently described as king of the birds. The two share qualities of immense strength, courage, and wisdom. Garuda is depicted as part eagle and part man and is shown with Vishnu in many forms. Krishna, being an incarnation of Vishnu, is also seen riding Garuda.

Many Hindu gods and goddesses have a vehicle (vahana), an animal that serves the deity as a mount. These animals, mighty beings in their own right, possess qualities shared in some ways by their corresponding gods. For example, Shiva rides the bull Nandi, a symbol of the god’s masculine power and sexuality. Shiva, the greatest of all ascetics, also rides the bull in the sense of controlling that unbridled energy. Certain half-animal gods, such as the elephant-headed Ganesha, also have animal vehicles. Ganesha is revered as the remover of obstacles, and similarly, his rat companion has the ability and nimbleness of wit to get through any hindrance.

Bowl with splashed and incised decoration

This earthenware bowl is covered by an off-white slip and decorated with splashes of green, dark brown, and ochre colors derived respectively from copper, manganese, and iron oxides run into a transparent lead glaze. Islamic splashed wares were found in Samarra (Iraq) in the ninth century, and recent evidence indicates they were made in Basra (Iraq). They were found throughout the eastern Islamic world by the tenth century. This bowl is related to ones from Nishapur in northeastern Iran. The incised and glazed decorations are unrelated to one another; they demonstrate complexity of design, which is a common feature of Islamic art. Although this bowl may seem to resemble Chinese Tang dynasty (619-906) “three-color” (sancai) ware, the relationship between Chinese and Islamic splashed wares is unclear and still being debated. The Tang ware shapes are different; they were manufactured earlier and were mainly used for funerary purposes and not for export.

Seated bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Padmapani, Holder of the Lotus, is a form of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of universal compassion. Surrounded by a flaming aureole, Padmapani is seated on a lotus throne with one leg extended. Residing in his crown is his spiritual father, the buddha Amitabha. The antelope skin on Padmapani’s shoulder shows that he is an ascetic, and the lotus in his left hand is a sign of his pure and universal compassion.

The modeling of the body, with its well-defined muscles, curved nose, large eyes inlaid with silver, and prominent chin are typical of this period of Kashmiri art. This style strongly influenced the art of western Tibet.

A King of Hell

This painting offers an interpretation of Buddhist conceptions of death and reincarnation. It depicts one of ten kings of hell who serves under the deity of the afterlife. In the teachings of some forms of Buddhism, it is said that when people die, their souls must appear before each of the ten kings of hell to have their lives reviewed. This judgment determines the fate of the dead. Some are sent to a cold or hot hell. Others are reborn as a deity, a human, an animal, a demon, or a ghost.


Function was not the primary concern in making this vase. It is carved of cinnabar red lacquer (tihong), and the carving is so deep and intricate as to render it nearly unusable. The point then must have been display, and this is made all the more clear by the content of the imagery. The subject matter for this piece is drawn from classical literature and, along with the lavish carving, represents the height of the imperial court art of the Qing dynasty.

This vase is made of three parts that fit together: the lower unit, which has a flaring foot; the main body, which is full and round, and the top unit, which has a bulbous section and a flaring lip.