By: Emily Sabens, Public Relations Intern

In Hinduism, there are three main gods. The first is Brahma, who is the creator of the universe. Second is Vishnu, who protects and preserves the globe. And the third is Shiva, whose role is to destroy the world in order to recreate it.

While Shiva’s actions may sound paradoxical, Hindus say this destruction is constructive. They believe Shiva’s ability to demolish then rebuild is used to destroy all of the imperfections in the world.

Shiva is both good and evil, according to the Hindus. He does good in the world; but he can also become angry and transform into Bhairava, his angry manifestation.


Unidentified artist. Stele of Shiva as Bhairava, 1200–1299. Metabasalt. 52 3/8 x 26 x 10 inches. David Owsley Museum of Art. Gift of David T. Owsley. 1986.039.003

“Stele of Shiva as Bhairava” shows Shiva as his alter ego, Bhairava. This sculpture depicts a time when Shiva was angry with Brahma—so he decided to cut off one of Brahma’s five heads (which you can see in Bhairava’s left hand).

The god holds a variety of items in his hands. A trident. A sword. A bow. A knife. A drum. A scourge. While this assortment of items may seem random, they all are associated with war. His dog also accompanies him, but this isn’t your typical pup. Rather his canine scavenges for human remains in crematories.

While Bhairava is depicted nude, he does wear some accessories. A garland of skulls hangs around his neck. His headdress, too, is crafted of skulls as well as snakes.

Bhairava seems to be extremely frightening and intimidating in this sculpture. Despite this, the figure appears attractive and even seductive, posing in the tribhanga pose—a body stance often used in Indian sculptures to indicate grace and enticement.

Visit the David Owsley Museum of Art today to see “Stele of Shiva as Bhairava,” located downstairs in the Frank and Rosemary Ball Gallery.