Figure of Surya, the Sun god

On display

Surya is shown in the costume of a Kushan ruler, with boots, tunic and cap.


  • Catalogue text

    The udīcya (northern) costume, featuring boots, a sort of tunic and a soft cap, its point tilted forward, first appears in Gandhara and Mathura around the first century of our era in depictions of the foreign people to whom the Kuṣāṇa rulers belonged. The squatting position makes a similar appearance at Mathura at this time, adopted by images of Sūrya, Hārītī [see EA1971.36] and some little figures of mother-goddesses (mātṛkās).

    The figure holds a small bowl (?) topped by a lotus blossom in his right hand; his left probably held a sword, of which only the bottom of the scabbard remains. Two little sitting lions, in profile on either side, recall the lion throne of some Kuṣāṇa princes or kings, whereas Sūrya is associated with the seven horses who draw his chariot, thus raising the question, as to whether some other images of the period, as to whether or not this is the Sun-god. Later, Sūrya is unmistakably identified by the presence of two attendants.

    The sculpture is notable for its detail and the crispness of the carving. Whether the deeply cut lines around the sides and lower parts of the face outline a beard (some Kuṣāṇa kings are shown bearded on their coinage) or a faceguard, it is difficult to say.

    In: Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987)

Further reading

Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 25 on p. 20, pp. 12 & 26, illus. p. 20

Ahuja, Naman, Art and Archaeology of Ancient India: Earliest Times to the Sixth Century (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2018), no. 104.3

Reference URL

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