Goddess with Sun and Moon in Her Hands

Nanaia or Nana, along with three male deities, was the most important goddess of the Sogdian pantheon. She was usually depicted four-armed seated on a lion, with her upper arms holding the anthropomorphic depictions of the sun and the moon. Our fragment shows her seated under a richly painted arch, with most of her face, neck and upper torso preserved. The fresco was discovered in one of the vaulted rooms of the Panjikent palace, once totally covered with paintings (Belenitsky, 1973, 27-28). The figure occupied the central position of the south wall. She is dressed in white and blue clothes, which stand out on the deep red background, with ribbons dropping to her shoulders from the headgear, perhaps a crown. She has a halo behind the head and flames rising from above the back, and she is opulently adorned with earrings and necklaces. Poorly preserved are the lion, the second pair of arms holding a rod and the staff of a banner, and presumably two human figures at either side, whose identification is problematic. They may be two warriors, one dressed in tiger skin, and the other in leopard skin, meant to protect the deity (Belenitsky, Marshak, 1971, 14-15). Nanaia was popular not only in Sogdiana, but in the neighboring territories as well, with her depictions found all around the Transoxiana, including Kushan Bactria and Chorasmia (Expedition Silk Road, 2014, 73). The name of the goddess as well as her association with the sun and the moon and probably her animal attribute, the lion, are of Mesopotamian or Hellenistic origins, while the other part of her iconography, the multiple limbs, goes back to Indian influences, more precisely to Pārvati, Śiva’s wife (Azarpay, 1981, 30, 137). Sometimes Nana is portrayed with Indianized features with a round mark on her forehead reminding one of the Indian ṭika (Ghose, 2005, 259). Although on our fresco the figure of the animal is virtually indiscernible, we still can with reasonably safety presume the goddess to sit on a lion. There are depictions of Nanaia riding a lion on Kushan coins. The four-handed goddess seating on a feline, probably a lion, are also widely present on the silver cups issued from Chorasmia (Minardi, 2013, 114). On other Sogdian frescos we find the goddess sitting on a throne adorned with lions, which is another way to portray the animal vehicle; and on a fresco discovered at Bunjikat almost the entirety of the figure of the lion is preserved (Sokolovsky, 2009). It seems that the lion is the most constant attribute of the divinity, together with the moon, the sun, and the four-armedness (Marshak, Belenitsky, 1971, 13). Animal attributes of the Sogdian gods, who themselves always appear only in human form, seem to replace the Indian tradition of animal incarnations of gods, and reflect the Zoroastrian concept of the farn, representing the mystical force of the deity and its “good fortune” (Azarpay, 1981, 70). - Maria Slautina


Belenitsky, A. M. Monumental Art of Penjikent. Painting and Scupture (Monumentalnoe Iskusstvo Penjikenta. Jivopis, Skulptura), Moscow, 1973. (MS)

Belenitsky A. M., Marshak B. I. “L'art de Piandjikent à la lumière des dernières fouilles (1958-1968)”, in Arts Asiatiques, Tome 23, 1971, pp. 3-39. (MS)

Expedition Silk Road: Journey to the West. Treasures from the Hermitage, Exhibition catalogue, Hermitage Amsterdam, 2014. (MS)

Azarpay, Guitty. Sogdian Painting. The Pictorial Epic in Oriental Art, University of California Press, 1981. (MS)

Ghose, Madhuvanti. “A Rare Image of the Goddess Nana from Afghanistan”, in Afghanistan, Ancien Carrefour entre l’Est et l’Ouest, Actes du Colloque International, Brepols, 2005, pp. 259-270. (MS)

Minardi, Michele. “A Four-Armed Goddess from Ancient Chorasmia: History, Iconography and Style of an Ancient Chorasmian Icon”, in Iran, Vol. 51, 2013, pp. 111-143. (MS)

Sokolovsky, Vladimir. Monumental Painting in the Palace Complex of Bunjikat, the Capital of Medieval Ustrushana 8th-early 9th Centruries (Monumentalnaja Jivopis VIII-Nachala IX Veka Dvortsovogo Kompleksa Bunjikata, Stolitsy Srednevekovogo Gosudarstva Ustrushany), St Petersburg, 2009. (MS)



8th century


Panjikent, Sogdiana, Site VI-26


Wall painting


73×244 cm


State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Inv. SA–16220

Additional Research Metadata


The mural, with a red background, was at the end of a covered corridor in a wealthy dwelling, beneath an illusory painted arch (part of the curve survives). Four-armed Nanaya, the most respected goddess in Sogdiana, is shown seated on a lion (poorly preserved). She holds anthropomorphic depictions of the moon and sun, her second pair of arms holding a rod and the staff of a banner.


From the Hermitage Panjikent Archaeological Expedition of 1954.


Belenitsky 1980, pp.102–3


“Goddess with Sun and Moon in Her Hands,” Telling the Sogdian Story , accessed October 17, 2019, http://sogdians.nyufasedtech.com/items/show/374.