The Dance of Shiva – A Study on The Tiruvalangadu Nataraja at Madras Museum, by Auguste Rodin

The dancing form of Shiva has been written about by many, for its spiritual, metaphysical concepts. But, I have been always wanting to see how it would appeal to an artist, a creator and a sculptor. As luck could have it chanced on a small note in the Catalogue of Hindu Metal Images of the Madras Museum, which talked of a study of a bronze by French sculptor Auguste Rodin. A frenetic search ended in discovering this abstract – a sheer poetry of a study.

At a period when southeast asian art was just about finding its place in the art world, for an European master to shower such praise this sculpture, i have read that the true test for a diamond is for it to be scratched against another diamond – for glass would be scratched, while two diamonds would come out intact, is indeed a perfect test – for both. But today i see both competing to add luster to each. It takes a great craftsmen and above it a pure heart and love for art, to appreciate a thing of beauty – though not your own, for often you reserve the best for your work, and tend to put yours or maybe your countrymen’s work or your period’s work in higher esteem, while attempting such a comparison. But the highlight of this study, is maybe the comparison to Venus De Meidici!! read on and enjoy.

Rodin studied two bronzes – the one that is featured below and another from Velankanni area – which i will try and showcase in the coming days. Since these are exhibited under museum lighting inside glass cases and we didn’t have the privilege of photographing with tripods ( images by me and arvind) – we were handicapped on occasions in not getting the right shots and also constantly experimenting with flash on and off!!

Written in 1913 and first published in 1921, Rodin’s The Dance of Shiva considers
a bronze statue of the Hindu god, through a carefully-crafted set of written impressions. This short work showcases the unique passion and melodrama of Rodin’s written voice.

The Dance of Shiva
by Auguste Rodin

Looking upon the whole of Shiva

In the full flower of life, the flow of living, the air, the sun, the
sense of being is a rushing torrent. Thus appears the art of the
Far East to us!

The human body attained divinity in that age, not because
we were closer to our origins—for our forms have remained
the same—but because we believed in freeing ourselves completely
from the constraints of now, and we spun away into the
heavens. It is a pleasure sorely missed…

From a certain angle, Shiva is but a slender crescent.
What endowment; what pride of body!
Today it is perpetual beauty in bronze. The imperceptible
movement of the light. One can sense the immobile muscles,
bathed in luminescence, ready to erupt into action if the light
should shift…

The shadows move nearer and nearer, cloaking the masterpiece,
lending it the enchantment of the deep melancholy of
darkness, of that place where it has lingered so long…
These hints of perfection! The mist of the body! As in some
divine creation, there is no trace of rebellion in this body; one
senses that everything is just as it should be. In it, we can understand
the rotation of the arm, even in repose, by examining
the shoulder blade, its protuberance, the rib cage, the admirable
attachment of the ribs, closely contoured to hold the shoulder
blade in place, the arm ready for action. The side, the line of
the torso continuing; narrow here, strong there, widening to
articulate two thighs, two rods, two levers; the angles perfect,
the legs delicate as they dance lightly upon the earth…

Looking upon a profile of Shiva

They are admirable, these two hands that separate the breast
from the stomach in a gesture that could rival that of the
Venus de’ Medici, shielding her beauty with her arms, in its
gracefulness. So, with the same clever movement, does Shiva
protect himself.

This straight shadow that divides the torso into two parts, gilding
the length of the thighs, one half in darkness and the other
entirely in chiaroscuro, within full reach of the shadow. The
pubis cannot be seen, cloaked as it is in this darkness…
In sum, it is the virtues of depth, of opposition, of lightness, of
power, that matter here—but none of them are worth anything
alone; they are useless embellishments except in relation to

These legs with their elongated muscles contain only speed.
The close-drawn thighs, a double caress, jealously guarding
the mysterious shadows; the beautiful field of darkness rendered
more marked by the light gleaming on the thighs.

Facing Shiva directly

It is a pose often used by artists, but there is nothing common
about it—for there is nature in every pose, and such distance!
There is, above all, what many people cannot see—the unknown
depths, the core of life. There is grace in elegance;
beyond grace there is perfection; but this goes farther still.

We may call it gentle, but it is powerfully gentle! Words do
not suffice…
There are garlands of shadows stretching brokenly from shoulder
to hip, and from hipbone to thigh at right angles…

On another profile of Shiva

These two legs with their differing illumination; this thigh that
casts a long shadow upon the other leg.
If there were no interior perfection, the contour could not be so
full and supple; it would be sharp, with that straight shadow.

On the supposedly barbarous art of Shiva

The ignorant man simplifies and sees crudely; he draws back
from superior art in order to love the inferior; he realizes
nothing. One must study more deeply to be interested, and
to see…

Upon lengthy contemplation of the head of Shiva

This swollen mouth, bulging, abundant in its sensual expressiveness…
The tenderness of the mouth and eye are in harmonious accord.
These lips, like a pleasure lake bordered by noble, thrilling nostrils.
The mouth undulates in moist pleasure, sinuous as a snake; the
eyes are closed, swollen, closed amidst a drapery of lashes.
The wings of the nose, delicately drawn against the fullness of
the face.

The lips that form words, that move when they escape. Such a
succulent serpent in action!
The eyes that have only a corner in which to hide have the
purity of line, the tranquility, of twin stars.

The sunlit tranquility of these eyes, the tranquil lines, the tranquil
joy of this calm.
The curves converge and end at the chin.
The expression continues with one ending that turns back into
another. The movements of the mouth are lost in the cheeks.

The curve that runs from the ear, echoing a small curve that
tugs at the mouth and a bit at the wings of the nose; it is a circle
that passes under the nose and the chin, and reaches all the way
to the cheekbones.
The curving, upturned cheeks.
Still before the eloquent head of Shiva

This eye rests level with its companion in an auspicious shelter;
it is voluptuous, luminous.
The eyes, closed in the sweetness of passing time.
These eyes, drawn with the purity of an enamelled jewel.

The eyes, within the jewel-box of the eyelids; the arch of the
eyebrows, and that of the sinuous lip.

The mouth, home to the sweetest thoughts, but a volcano of
fury no less.

The physicality of the soul imprisoned within this bronze,
captive for centuries. The desire for eternity is on these lips, in
these eyes so ready to see, to speak.

Life, always entering and leaving through the mouth, just as
bees come and go continually from the hive; the soft, perfumed

This lovely lost profile has a profile of its own, but one in which
its expressiveness ends—is frozen—leaving the alluring cheeks
curving downward to join with the muscles of the neck.

Translation courtesy: Tina Kover
Venus image – from web sources.

Tiruvalanchuli – In search of the missing sculptures – aided by a Mastero Silpi’s sketch

Certain things have a timeless allure to them. Line drawings done by experts are such. And when one such expert dedicates his life to sketch only temple sculpture, then we are in for a treat and if that expert is the one and only Silpi – then its a heavenly treat.

The master artist used to look for some very unusual and complicated angles, postures – which he could bring out. He was not someone who would even miss out the smallest detail. To illustrate this point, i am taking a very very important sketch of his, of a very very important but forgotten temple – Tiruvalanchuli. There is so much of mystery associated with this temple, that i am fortune to have the blessings of one of my mentors Sri Sundar Bharadwaj, a man of big deeds but in true spirit, not someone who will trumpet his contributions to heritage and conservation. Am indebted to him for many things and this post is a small payback, to bring his favorite temple to the limelight.

This is his famous sketch – its apparent that the temple was in ruins and all the sculptures were dumped outside. This was sketched on site 50 years ago

The sculptures have been removed from the temple and kept in the museums in tanjore ( except for the Ganesha sculpture)

The temple has since been renovated and is read to receive its treasures. Now, thanks to Satheesh and Mr Bharadwaj, we try to fit in missing pieces – inorder to seek the support of readers to voice out for their return. Its also a lasting testament to the great skill of the master artist.

I hope you had as much fun as me, to match every curve, every ornament and sadly every broken stone to identify them. We will continue shortly with a detailed post from appreciating sculpture perspective, for each of these are fantastic sculptures in their own right and require a separate post to highlight their beauties – as of now just rewind and see the master artist at work.

Meantime, a quiz to test your identification skills – lets see if you can identify the various sculptures in this order?

For the ones we could find the sculptures

Better still – to try for the entire sketch.


Kanchi Mathangeshwara Temple + Somaskanda Evolution Part 5

Today we are being treated to an excellent travelogue by Arvind – on a little known attraction in the well visited Kanchipuram environs. Arvind is a Software professional with a fanatic interest in sculpture 🙂 and is currently working on bringing out an online catalogue of sculpture. He is a enthusiastic and voracious reader on sculpture apart from many other interesting passions…Read on…

Visiting Kancheepuram was a long pending item on my to do list. Though I made few visits in my school and college days, I had not visited this treasure trove for long.

The interest to visit was rekindled during my conversations with a good friend. Finally last week, made an impulsive decision to visit the place. I also gave myself the whole weekend to visit as many places as I could.
My good friend Gopinatha Srinivas readily accepted to join me for the trip.

As we were temple hopping, drunk in the beauty of the sculptures, battling the heat, we could cover Kailasandhar Kovil, Katchepawarar Kovil, Kamatchi Amman kovil and Ulagalantha Perumal Kovil on Saturday. We called it day then.

Next morning we wanted to cover as many as possible by the time the temples closed in the afternoon. We started with Ekkamabareswarar Kovil and moved on to Vaikunda Perumal Kovil. Ekkambareswarar Kovil, though huge did not have as many interesting sculptures proportionate to its size. While Vaikunda Perumal koil, was a riot. Every panel there is exquisite and was forcing us stay put.

Interestingly there are panels with Huang-San, replica of Mahabalipuram shore temple (in the Nandivarma Pallavamalla’s ascend to the throne). The panels on the praharas were filled with various coronations of the Pallava Kings. The priest there was kind enough to tell us the other temples we need to visit in the vicinity.

Mathengesawar Temple is just 200 meters away from Vaikundaperumal Koil. This should be the most well hidden temple I had come across.

The directions given to us was to take the 2nd right from where we had parked at Vaikunda perumal koil, the second right was a small lane, as we entered it, we could see a gopuram and our eagerness soared, but there was no approach from the lane we had taken. We reversed and went the next right, which happens to be a main road. As we moved along the road looking for the temple, it never came to our sight. We parked our car and started to walk back to check again, if we had missed the temple.

As we retraced our route, we caught the little ASI board and an adjacent narrow lane, which was the entrance to the temple. This lane is about 30 feet, leading to open clear space. The whole temple complex should be less than 4000 sq.ft. There is single shrine which is well elevated from the ground level. There is a nandhi opposite to the shrine and a banyan tree adjacent to it. From the looks of it the Banyan tree attracts more visitors than the temple.

10 steps lead to the corridor of the shrine, which are quiet steep.

Central shrine houses the linga with a backdrop of Somaskanda panel, which is exquisite. Which styling is this?

The three walls of the the shrine on the outer has some brilliant sculptures, the sandstone had lent itself for some intricate carvings.

Small and very beautiful temple, the sculptures here stays in my eyes now, and hope it would for ever. If not, I can go back to these photographs or back to Kancheepuram to see the beauty again.

Wait for part 2 – for more beauties from here and more history about it….