The Panchamukha is a rare and powerful manifestation of Lord Shiva. It is the roopa of Shiva with five (‘pancha’) faces (‘mukha’). Each of these faces represent a cosmic function of the Lord and has a distinct name. The watercolour that you see on this page depicts Sadashiva (Panchamukha Shiva) seated on a gigantic lotus bloom, upon a blue velvet- and gold-upholstered throne.
Each of the faces of Sadashiva is a different complexion. The panchanana aspects of Mahadeva are Sadyojata (‘anugraha’), Vamadeva (‘tirobhava’), Aghora (‘samhara’), Tatpurusha (‘’sthitee’), and Ishana (‘srshtee’). A bejewelled gold parasol offers shade to them all. Interestingly, the locks of all four heads form a canopy, which in turn cradles the fifth head of Sadashiva.
The dashabhujadhari (ten-armed) Sadashiva is clad in a dhoti the colour of vivid gold. A multitude of weapons in all those hands, including a living, breathing snake. Ample pearl and jewel adornment, setting off the glacial complexion of the divine form.
Shiva’s body, one of his five faces and half of the neck have been drawn in marble-like eye-soothing pinkish white, the face on extreme left, in black, on extreme right, in grey, and the fourth, adjacent to one with body-colour, red. The fifth, skywards directed, has been conceived with deep yellow. He is wearing a printed yellow ‘antariya’ – lower wear, a green sash with golden borders and ends, and elegantly conceived jewellery. The five-faced Sadashiva is seated against a huge bolster on a full blooming multi-petalled lotus laid over a hexagonal golden chowki with a raised back. The chowki is elaborately adorned with floral designs – inlaid and enameled. The iconographic convention of the form of Sadashiva contends that each two of his arms and the attributes carried in them correspond specifically to one of his faces. In the painting, as in the earlier one, in his five hands on the right side he is holding trident, khanda – a sword-type weapon with broader two-sided blade, sword, axe and the gesture imparting freedom from fear; and in the left, a snake, noose, bell, goad and ‘damaru’ – a double drum.
In addition to his role as one of the Great Trinity, in Shaivite thought, and there prevails almost complete unanimity in this regard, Shiva is seen as the ever present Sadashiva. The Pancha-mukha cult pursues two broad lines. Under one tradition, it is in the linga form that Shiva has his five faces and that in his ultimate manifestation he is the linga. The linga is the jyoti – the potential flame, which represents pancha-bhutas – five cosmic elements, or five constituents of the cosmos. Thus, it is out of Sadashiva that the cosmos is born. The other tradition puts it only in a different way. It conceives Shiva as ‘Panchavaktramatrinetram’, that is, as one who combines in his being Tatpurusha, Vamadeva, Aghora, Sadyojata and Ishan, representing respectively wind, water, fire, creative function and space. Thus again Shiva's five heads manifest the five cosmic elements and functions. Under yet another tradition, Shiva’s five faces are Mahadeva, Bhairava, Nandivakha, Umavakha and Sadashiva, representing five directions, as Mahadeva, east, as Bhairava, south, as Nandivakha, west, as Umavakha, north, and as Sadashiva, Zenith. Meditation on these faces is contended to lead to the attainment of true knowledge. Though not unanimously accepted, the Skanda-Purana gives the colour of each face : Tatpurusa, pearl-like, Vamadeva, golden yellow, Aghora – dark like heavy dark blue clouds, Sadyojata, white like a couch-shell, and Isana, white.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain
specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of
numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the
curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New
Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of
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