The study of bronzes is an addictive passion. Once you have laid you eyes on an exquisite Chola bronze, there is no antidote. But, the flames of this passion are difficult to feed, for its not easy to lay your eyes on them – when in worship they are brought out clad in all sorts of paraphernalia leaving almost next to nothing to view, and when they are back in their abode – they are jailed ( for safety!). That leaves out museum visits as the best possible places to study them, and thanks to the hundreds of buried bronzes that have been found in treasure troves, most Museums have a few on display. While a few lucky museums are bestowed with the custody of hundreds…One such is the Chennai Egmore Museum. Sadly, the problem posed by the lighting and the glass cases remain a hardy deterrent, but then the largest problem – is the lack of awareness and information on how to enjoy them – what to look for, how to look. So, today, thanks to the wonderful book – Bronzes of South India ( once again) by Sri. P. R. Srinivasan, we embark on a study of the famed Okkur Natesa – possibly the earliest attempt by a bronze stapathi at refining the Ananda Thandava form of Shiva and a precursor to the now famed Chola Nataraja.
The dating of this bronze ( as usual) is a point of contention with experts giving early 9th C CE dates to mid 10th C CE. But the consensus is that this is possibly one of the earliest forms of the Dancing Aspect of Shiva signifying the Ananda Thandava. So lets, see the characteristic features of this bronze that justify this ` early’ tag.
The two most distinct aspects of this bronze are the appearance of the Orb or Prabha – beautifully encircling the main form and the lotus pedestal.
Before we go into the specifics, lets study the Ananda rasa in this composition – so beautifully brought forth by the artist – despite the 1000 years and wear n tear…you can still see the divine sublime smile.
its very interesting to note that there is a suggestion of a third eye and the mismatched ear rings – there is a large Patra Kundala on the left ear while the right ear seems to have a very small ear clip ( the book mentioned above doesn’t talk of this ear clip)
The headdress of Shiva is very similar to the one we saw in the Pallava Somaskanda – with the Datura flower and crescent moon.
The round protrusion on the crest would be a skull and above it an ornament of feathers ( peacock?)
The neck ornaments are pretty ordinary with two necklaces, but the center piece of the second one is interesting. The larger necklace is obviously made of Rudraksha beeds with a very rare animal ( tiger) tooth pendant.
We will deal with the spreading locks in more detail later on, but what is interesting to note that this is the first time ( in bronze) the locks of Shiva spread out as he dances. They are pretty plain with no ornaments and noted absence of the depiction of any form of Ganga ( mermaid). They are intelligently fixed to the Orb for greater structural strength.
Shiva is shown with four arms and the arms separate at the shoulder joint itself ( not at the elbows – this is stated as one of the early characteristics of Pallava bronzes and hence a later date – Chola period – for this particular bronze). The raised feet has still not come very high up as the later depictions.
The anklets are cute with small bells attached to them and maybe you can actually hear them clang as he dances.
The clothing is pretty simple, with a two stringed sacred thread ( yagnopavitham) and a thick waist cloth ( uttariya) which is simply knotted over the stomach. The designs on the cloth are visible to this day !
The upper hands are stunningly crafted, one holding the Drum and the other the pot of fire – see how realistically the pot is delicately held in the tips of the fingers.
The lower right hand has a ascetically coiled snake around it and is in Abhaya Hasta.
If anyone should point out anything in this wonderful bronze – it could be the modeling of the lower hands and the thin thighs, which is more than made up by the beautiful depiction of Muyalakan sporting playfully with a large cobra.
However, the true beauty of this bronze lies when we go around to the back.
The fantastic portrayal of how the locks of hair form and flow is stunning. You can even see the clasp used to fasten the necklace.
Here comes the other clue as to the early nature of this bronze. The lack of Siraschakra or the ring behind the head holding the hair locks.
Interesting also to note the way the lion cloth is wound and yet he is wearing a kind of shorts as well.
The thing about the orb is the way the flames are naturally depicted – even though they sprout around the orb, the flames shoot straight up like how a natural flame would point vertically up even when held to oneside.
Truly a masterpiece.