​Shiva Ardhanarishvara (“God is a Half-Woman”), I

by Andy Brouwer

  • Height (cm): 79. Sandstone
  • Late 12th- early 13th century
  • Provenance: Prasat Trapeang Srangae, Roluos Group, Siem Reap Province
  • Location: National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh
  • Catalogue Number: NMC Inventory Ka.1847
  • Status: On display
  • Photo credits: Andy Brouwer

Another rare exhibit from the National Museum in Phnom Penh is the androgynous portrayal of the god Shiva known as Ardhanarishvara, or ‘God who is half-woman’. This half-male and half-female figure symbolizes the harmony and unity of opposites, with the left side associated with the heart and feminine attributes such as intuition and creativity, while the right side is akin to the brain and masculine traits such as valour. This sculpture was located at Prasat Trapeang Srangae, which is squeezed in between the temples of Bakong and Preah Ko in the Roluos Group. Maurice Glaize was in charge of the restoration of Bakong until 1943 and this exhibit was pictured by EFEO for the first time in 1945.

The right side representing the male Shiva side, is shown wearing a short fishtail sampot, a short Khmer beard and an earring. The left female side (it may represent Shiva’s wife Parvati or Uma) is clean shaven, has a breast but no earring and has a slightly longer sampot. The figure has the usual Bayon-style sturdy legs. Since the EFEO photographs taken in 1945, the exhibit, which is just under three feet in height, has sadly lost its right hand which held a small trident.

Tags: Shiva, Ardhanarishvara, Bayon Style, androgyny, Khmer sculpture, museums, NMC

About the Author

Portrait of Andy   Brouwer

Andy Brouwer

Cheltenham-born and bred, Andy Brouwer (1959, UK) made his first trip to Cambodia in 1994, and that white-knuckle ride hooked him for life. He upped sticks to Phnom Penh in 2007 after more than thirty years in banking back in the UK to join Hanuman Films.

As well as having a serious obsession in temples, books -- he’s the editor of the guidebook To Cambodia With Love --, and pretty much all things Khmer, he is a lifetime supporter of Leeds United and has an insatiable passion for the music of Steel Pulse and Ennio Morricone. His website relives his numerous visits to Cambodia, and more.

During his time living in Cambodia, he’s been a producer and researcher for Hanuman Films, a product manager at Hanuman Travel, and the media officer with Phnom Penh Crown FC. Since 2020, he developed a personal research, Exploring Khmer Art Worldwide, published as an ongoing series on his Facebook page, that will be soon hosted on Angkor Database.