Posted on: 15 December 2013

'Deification stele with figure of Harihara, in the Residency garden, Kediri, East Java, 1866-67'

The colonial authorities in the Dutch East Indies had first used photography to document the great Buddhist stupa of Borobudur in 1844, but this very early archaeological project proved abortive and few further initiatives were undertaken in the next two decades.

This view is one of the series of around 330 photographs of Javanese archaeological sites and antiquities, commissioned by the Batavian Society of Arts and taken by the theatrical promoter and photographer Isidore van Kinsbergen between 1863 and 1867.

Harihara is the name of a combined deity form of both Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara) from the Hindu tradition. Also known as Shankaranarayana, Harihara is thus worshipped by both Vaishnavites and Shaivities as a form of the Supreme God, as well as being a figure of worship for other Hindu traditions in general. Harihara is also sometimes used as a philosophical term to denote the unity of Vishnu and Shiva as different aspects of the same Supreme God.

Albumen print

From Isidore van Kinsbergen, Oudheden van Java (Batavia [Jakarta, c.1873])

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HARI HARA The unity of the various deities is taught in the following legend. As Lakshmi and Durgā were sitting together in the presence of Siva, Lakshmi contended that her husband (Vishnu) was greater than Siva, because Siva had worshipped him. As they were conversing, Vishnu himself appeared, and, in order to convince his wife that he and Siva were equal, entered his body, and they became one. Another form of this story is found in the "Skanda Purāna." Siva asked Vishnu on one occasion to assume the form of a beautiful woman, such as he did at the churning of the ocean to attract the attention of the asuras whilst the gods drank the amrita. Vishnu consenting, Siva became excited and sought to embrace her. As Vishnu ran away, Siva followed him, and though Vishnu resumed his proper form, Siva clasped him so tightly that their bodies became one, and a name Har-Hari, is given to the deities thus united

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