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Man-Lion Incarnation of Vishnu, c. 1700

India: Himachal Pradesh, Mankot or Bahu, 1675-1725
Opaque watercolor on paper
image: 6-1/8 x 5-1/2 in. (15.6 x 14.0 cm); sheet: 7-3/8 x 6-1/2 in. (18.7 x 16.5 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Ramesh and Urmil Kapoor
© Norton Simon Museum

Not on view

The malevolent king Hiranyakashipu, here spread across Vishnu’s lap, was granted an imperfect form of immortality by the gods. He could not be killed during the day or at night, indoors or outdoors, by man or by beast. When he attempted to kill his own son, Vishnu intervened. In half-man, half-lion form, Vishnu burst from a doorpost at twilight and tore Hiranyakashipu apart, evading all of the conditions protecting the king.

Vishnu’s triumph relied on a paradox fundamental to Hindu belief: being both man and lion, indoors and outside, he was also neither of these things. The division of space within the doorway emphasizes this rather abstract idea, as Vishnu’s face is framed by daylight on one side and darkness on the other.

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