Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi as the Goddess Parvati

Historical period(s)
Chola dynasty, Reign of Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, 10th century
H x W x D: 107.3 x 33.4 x 25.7 cm (42 1/4 x 13 1/8 x 10 1/8 in)
India, Tamil Nadu state
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Freer Gallery 01: Body Image: Arts of the Indian Subcontinent
Metalwork, Sculpture


Chola dynasty (850 - 1280), India, kataka mudra, Parvati, queen, Uma

To 1929
Hagop Kevorkian (1872-1962), New York to 1929 [1]

From 1929
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Hagop Kevorkian, New York in 1929 [2]


[1] Object file, undated folder sheet note. See also Freer Gallery of Art Purchase List file, Collections Management Office.

[2] See note 1.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Hagop Kevorkian 1872-1962


Chola queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, whose husband reigned 949-57, was widowed at an early age and was a highly respected patron of the arts who devoted most of her life to temple commissions. During her lifetime, special celebrations marked her birthday in the Shiva temple in the town of Sembiyan Mahadevi, named after her, and a metal portrait of the beloved queen was presented to the temple in her honor. It is possible that the image seen here is that very sculpture. Draped in silks, precious jewelry, and flower garlands, this processional figure would have been carried through the town for public viewing.

This highly stylized image is an instance of the blurring of lines between royal and divine portraiture in ancient Indian art. While the pose is reminiscent of the goddess Parvati, this tall, svelte image with heavy, naturalistically shaped breasts and drapery clinging to her lower limbs is uncommonly individualized in the shape of her face, pursed lips, and long nose. Stylized portrait statues like this were more likely to be identified by their placement in a temple, or their function in specific rituals, than through an actual resemblance to their human counterparts. As such, it would have been recognized as Sembiyan Mahadevi by its use in processions celebrating her birthday.

Published References
  • Aschwin Lippe. The Freer Indian Sculptures. Oriental Studies Series, no. 8 Washington, 1970. pl. 25-28.
  • Richard H. Davis. Wooden Flowers in the Museum: Reflections on a Decorated Nataraja. vol. 33, No. 9, 9th ed. Hong Kong, November 2002. p. 56, fig. 4.
  • Vidya Dehejia. The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Sacred Bronzes from Chola India, 855–1280. Princeton, NJ, May 2021. p. 88, 90, and 283, fig. 4.1 a-e.
  • Ideals of Beauty: Asian and American Art in the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Thames and Hudson World of Art London and Washington, 2010. pp. 100-101.
  • Vidya Dehejia. The Sensuous and The Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India. Exh. cat. New York, Seattle and London, 2002. cat. 14, pp. 122, 126-127.
  • Thomas Lawton, Thomas W. Lentz. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. vol. 1 Washington, 1998. p. 160, fig. 1.
  • I. Job Thomas. Chola Bronzes. Chennai, India, January 2018. p. 170-172.
  • Phaidon Editors. 30,000 Years of Art: The Story of Human Creativity Across Time and Space. New York. p. 233.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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