Head of a Nagin
The rising hood of a serpent indicates that this once belonged to an impressive image of a serpent goddess, known generically by the Sanskrit expression nagini. The head was purportedly found in Besnagar (also known as Bhilsa), an ancient urban site in today’s Madhya Pradesh. Besnagar lies in what used to be the heartland of the Gupta empire. The head also typically exemplifies the aesthetic of the Gupta period, with strongly modelled and sharply chiselled features.
The oval face is dominated by large half-open eyes, a noble nose, and a sensuous mouth with a full, fleshy underlip. The hair is rendered typically in ringed, spring-like coils, sitting on the head like a wig with a crest on top. The snake hood’s volume is indicated by parallel curving lines, ending in a head with glaring, expressive eyes and a gem on top.
The veneration of serpent deities appears to have continued well into the Gupta period as is clear from several impressive surviving examples that were housed in structural shrines.
Gift of Karl and Meherbai Khandalavala
5th century CE
Length: 25 cm