Last time when I expressed my disappointment in not seeing the representation of Chola bronzes in the Frontline piece on Chola art, I belielve I spoke too soon. Naturally, I should have realised that Chola bronzes, by themselves deserve a piece. And that is precisely what Benoy K Behl does in the 17th part of the ongoing 25 part series:
By about the 8th century, in the temples of Tamil Nadu, the utsava murtis began to be made in bronze. This tradition of bronzes, which reached its height during the Chola rule, resulted in some of the finest works of Indian art.
The art historian Sharada Srinivasan writes: “A very different tradition of modelling was followed here in India and particularly in these South Indian bronzes. Unlike the European tradition of using models, the images were all made using mnemonic techniques, whereby the craftsmen were meant to memorise dhyana shlokas which describe the attributes of various goddesses and gods and they used the taalamana canon of measurement to essentially visualise the image and then sculpt it out of their own imagination rather than using models.”
In the skilled hands of devoted artists, the metal images communicated the majesty and dignity of the deities as well as the suppleness and dynamic movement of their bodily forms.
These are remarkably expressive and graceful. They convey the spiritual fervour of the artists who made them. These works of art are part of a divine architecture where the deity manifests in forms that awaken bliss and peace within the viewer. These fluid and subtle images were a means of expressing the beauty of the divine that is in all that one sees.
The technique used to make South Indian bronzes is called the lost-wax process. First, the image, complete in all its details, is carefully made out of hard beeswax. Then, the wax is covered with layers of clay. The clay-covered model is then heated so that all the wax melts and comes out. What is left is a cavity that exactly replicates the wax image. Next, the molten bronze is poured in through channels made in the original design. Once the cast has cooled down, the clay is broken away and the stems of the channel are filed off. During Chola times, the moulds were made so perfectly that no further details needed to be carved. These days, however, the fine details are cut after the casting process is over.
The accompanying photographs of Siva, Tribhanga Parvati, Bhikshadanar, and Kalyanasundarar, to mention but a few, are a feast for the eyes. Take a look!