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Chola bronzes
The art from South India
Exhibition and catalogue The Sensuous and the Sacred. Order the book from Amazon.com
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Article added on September 3, 2003
  
The Sensuous and the Sacred. Chola Bronzes from South India is an exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (Dallas Museum of Art April 4 - June 15, 2003; The Cleveland Museum of Art, July 6 - September 14, 2003).
 
During the reign of the Chola kings between the 9th and the 13th centuries of the common era, the Tamil-speaking region of south India experienced a period of rich artistic creativity with bronzes as its most famous mode of expression.

The bronzes of the Chola dynasty, worshipped as living entities, replaced large and immovable stone sculptures. The bronzes were portable and became integral to numerous festivities and rituals both in the temple and its surroundings.
 
The production of bronze images for temple use first began during the reign of the latter Pallava rulers of the 8th century. However, bronze sculpture as a specialized art rose into prominence only the the direct and indirect patronage of the Chola monarchs. Chola bronzes were created through the cire perdue (lost-wax) technique that remains the standard through to this day.
 
From around the 6th century (or even earlier), a unique development began in South India: the Hindu deity began to be visualized as assuming a public persona not unlike that of a human ruling monarch (in Tamil, the word koyil is used for both temple and palace). The deity was required to appear in person in public and to preside over a number of festivities that became part of a temple's ritual cycle. The gods in procession became accessible to even the lowest of worshipers (the untouchables) who in the past were prohibited entry into the sacred premises of a temple. The heavy stone images in the sanctum could not be carried around. Therefore, the production of smaller and lighter processional images of deities satisfied a ritual requirement.

At first, the portable images must have been created of perishable material, most likely wood. Only in the late 8th century, processional images began to be crafted in bronze, in several regional Chola styles.

In The Sensuous and the Sacred, Vidya Dehejia analyzes the regional and stylistic variations among Chola bronzes, e.g. based on the stylistic analysis of images of the goddess, who is invariably featured in any temple bronze assemblage. Below her conclusions of this specific comparison (the catalogue essay by R. Nagaswamy introduces the added possibility of royal and non-royal styles coexisting in any one region).
 
Chola-nadu is the Chola heartland, with its capital at Tanjavur and later at Gangaikondacholapuram. It stretches along the banks of the Kaveri river, the region in which the classic Chola artistic style was born. Bronzes have a sensuous, refined and majestic grace.
 
Tondai-nadu is the region north of the Kaveri basin. It was captured by the second Chola monarch, Aditya (r. ca. 871-907). he defeated the armies of the Pallavas of Kanchipuram and claimed al of Tondai-nadu as Chola territory. The Tondai goddess has angular, slight limbs as well as small and high breasts that result in a lean slenderness.
 
Kongu-nadu is the western region around Coimbatore. It was at times in the hand of the Chera rulers of Kerala and at other times part of the Chola empire. A typical Kongu-nadu image of Uma has a rounded face, broad nose, full lips, substantial rounded breasts, a conical crown. Images of the goddess have an earthy touch and shoulders of an exaggerated width.
 
Pandi-nadu is the southern Pandya territory. It was first captured by Aditya's son Parantaka (r. 907-955), who assumed the title of Maduraikonda (Capturer of Madurai, the Pandya capital). Bronzes of the goddess have simplified bodily contours and elongated proportions (like the Uma image in Kongu-nadu).
 
More books, literature on the subject:
- Balasubrahmanyam, S. R.: Early Chola Art, Early Chola Temples, Middle Chola Temples, Later Chola Temples (four-volume record of temples and their bronzes; 1966, 1971, 1975, 1979).
- Barrett, Douglas: Early Chola Bronzes (art historical analysis), 1965.
- Dehejia, Vidya: Art of the Imperial Cholas, 1990.
- Nagaswamy, R.: Masterpieces of Early South Indian Bronzes, 1983 + many other books and articles (in particular on the sacred significance and iconography of images).


 

The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India by Vidya Dehejia and various contributors. Order the book from Amazon.com. The catalogue is the source for this article. It is a good starting point for anyone interested in the art of the Chola dynasty.
 
- Article on the subject of the Chola empire
- Book your hotel in India online


 

 

 

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