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Melursus Ursinus, the sloth bear

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Chapter Summary

Bears are large animals, easily recognised by their large head set with small eyes and rounded ears, heavy body, massive, short limbs and a hardly visible tail. Bear sculptures are hard to find. Two examples of realistic sloth bear statues are known from the region of Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, and from Bhaktapur, Nepal. The Nepal statue occupies the highest rank among a series of guardian figures of a Hindu temple, but whether this informs about the bear's high hierarchical status or not, is not clear. The temple is dedicated to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and spouse of Vishnu, but who is otherwise not related to Kubera. Most bear sculptures form part of narrative relief to indicate a mountainous setting. They are depicted as sleeping in caves or rockshelters. Examples are early Buddhist narrative reliefs from Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

Keywords: Bhaktapur; Hindu temple; Mathura; Melursus Ursinus; narrative relief; sloth bear; stone sculptures



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