The Asian art figure has long been regarded as a symbolic representation of something infinitely important! For thousands of years these symbols have been used to represent divine powers. People have wanted to visualize such figures for a number of reasons. Over time such symbolic representations have evolved into mainstream art from this very ancient part of the world. They have even become the subjects of academic scholarships in the West. This has certainly taken place in a reliably short time over the past one hundred years as the field of “Asian studies” has progressively expanded. The true importance of the religious aspect of such figures is a matter of personal emotion. Each owner of an Asian figure is free to decide what that means will be, if any, for them. Understanding the history behind an Asian art piece is a very rewarding and enlightening journey.
One subject for consideration is the “Harihara” discovered in Cambodia. It is dated from the Preangkor period of the 8th century. The figure is made of sandstone and is 26 inches (or 66 cm). It is part of the famous Norton Simon Foundation as a particular piece of the ancient sculptures from the Hindu-Buddhist world. This sculpture is also known as “Cosmic Deity.” It became part of Mr. Simon's personal collection in 1972. However, it officially entered the Norton Simon Art Foundation in 2004 as a gift from Jennifer Jones Simon. Since its unique acquisition by the museum, this piece has been considered a Bahpuon style cosmic deity. One of the most striking features which associates this figure with the Bahpuon style is the way the sampot can kpin (male garment) is treated. It is tied low in the front and high in the back. This way the garment accentuates the abdomen and navel of the figure. Of course, this style is also marked by the figure's pinched waist and cleft chin.
The figure has been identified at the Norton Simon Musuem without dispute as simply “Cosmic Deity.” However, its unusual iconography also suggests that the piece is probably of the Hindu god Vishnu. As this figure appears today, it is populated with iconographic attributes associated with both Shiva and Vishnu. This is most likely because Harihara images in Khmer art even separate the god's body straight down the middle. This way equal attention is given to characteristics of both deities. Even so, this particular figure at the Norton Simon Foundation is dated after the Preangkor period. It iconography is a little inconsistent with much of Khmer Harihara images. Therefore, the general consensus is that this piece if of the god Vishnu.
The next logical question is simple. Who is Vishnu? In classical Hindu belief, Vishnu is part of a kind of trinity: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Vishnu is the preserver and protector of creation. Vishnu is also the embodiment of mercy and goodness. This god is self-existent and all-pervading. Vishnu preserves the universe and maintains cosmic order known as “Dharma.” Quite frequently, Vishnu is populated with four attributes. Sometimes these are considered weapons. In one hand Vishnu holds the Sankha. The second hand holds a disc called the Vaijra. While the third hand holds the club, the fourth holds the lotus known as Padma. In addition, Vishnu holds a bow called Samga and a sword called Nandaka.
Generally speaking, good and evil forces are equally matched in the world. However, if the careful balance is destroyed evil forces will get the upper hand. When this happens, the other gods lobby for Vishnu to incarnate as a human being in order to set the balance of forces right again. There have been ten incarnations of Vishnu which are recognized as the most important to history.
The place where “art” and “science” connect in regard to the cosmic deity of Vishnu is the figure itself. Art tells us that people from ancient times have believed in the divine origin of the symbol under examination. Science, on the other hand, informs us how old the figure is. This gives us some idea of how long people have believed in the myth. When considering the wide range of options in the Asian figurines market, a wise buyer will carefully weigh the choices in a thoughtful manner. The choice of the best figurine for one's own home or office is very intelligent decision to make. May your choice be the luckiest one possible!