Skip to Content
100 Highlights
of the MFAH
Take a tour through some of the most significant objects in the MFAH collections. On these pages, you can browse 100 highlights from collections throughout the institution. Then visit the Museum in person to discover your own favorites.
Shiva Nataraja
13th century

29 1/4 x 21 x 9 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Carol and Robert Straus

Arts of Asia

This bronze figure of the Hindu god Shiva, in the form of the cosmic dancer known as Shiva Nataraja, dates to the Chola kingdom, which ruled over southern India from the late 9th century until the 13th century. A socially and economically prosperous time, the period was marked by a flowering of Hindu culture and the construction of ornate shrines and temple complexes.

During the Chola dynasty, bronze casting reached a high point in India. Bronze was used to make many temple figures such as this depiction of Shiva. The figure is performing a divine dance that symbolizes the ongoing cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe.

The small figure beneath Shiva’s foot is Apasmara, the embodiment of human ignorance, forgetfulness, and recklessness. Shiva raises an hourglass-shaped drum called a damaru in his back left hand. The beat of this drum signifies the sound of creation. Shiva’s front right hand is extended in the abhaya mudra gesture, which means “do not fear.” The large third eye that looks out from above his head was used to distinguish between truth and illusion.