Possibly the earliest depiction of the Ananda Thandava of Shiva in bronze- Okkur Natesa

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.

20 thoughts on “Possibly the earliest depiction of the Ananda Thandava of Shiva in bronze- Okkur Natesa

  1. Thanks vj… lovely post with interesting details and observation. Why is Muylagan shown playing with the snake or with a snake mostly..and when he is being crushed ..why is he not in anguish?

  2. Rhoda….its maybe a way of saying that despite whatever, whoever rules ( dances) ….the dark side will continue ….but when they overstep…he comes again to cut/trample them down to size….however, there can never be total bliss – i guess…


  3. மேய்வதற்கு ஆடுகள் இருந்தால் தானே வேலிக்கு வேலை…

    திருடன் இருந்தால் தானே காவலுக்கு ஆள் தேவை…

    இன்றோ துயரம் வந்தால் தானே ஆண்டவனுக்கே வேலை…

  4. @ Shri – Primitive 🙁 – wouldnt say so – ” early” depiction…more apt

    @ Liesbeth – Thanks, there is so much to see. infact had taken these in dec 2009. took about an hour to experiment with flash/without flash and angles to get the right results ( from beyond the glass) – then during lunch time asked the guard to switch off the focus lights…..:-)


  5. முன்னழகைக் காணில் முனிவர் தவம் செய்வாரோ?,
    பின்னழகைக் காணில் பிரமன் தவம் செய்வானோ!!

  6. The feathers you had shown in the bronze is that of the crane and not pecock. It is stated that Nataraja has Kokhu erahu in his head and this is seen in many bronze images.

    Nataraja dress does not depict the loin cloth it a way of tying the dothi in a short level with a kacham.

    This is an amazing bronze your explanation of details is intresting andshows your love for the great chola bronzes.

    • dear Mr Gurumurthy,

      Thanks for the comment. However, i am not able to trace any reference to the feathers to being those of a crane. However, i do find many references in Sri. C. Sivaramurthi’s Natraja in Art, thought and Literature, to the peacock feathers that adorn the head dress of Shiva in the Nataraja form. The Sipla texts like Sritattvanidhi do define peacock feathers decorating his head.


  7. And not to miss to see the cloth flying away due to centrifugal force of His rotation 🙂
    (told already.. but still… not to miss) 🙂

  8. siva is not wearing tiger tooth pendant it yooth of varaha murthi siva is known as varaha samhara murthi also siva conquers matyaavathara murthy bytaking form of a crane{matya samhara murthy} it is said siva wears feathers of a crane even if ihave another chace to see the bronce i would have missed some features u have brought 2 light good work

  9. உங்களுடைய சிற்ப்பத்தை பற்றிய கருத்துக்கள் ஆழ்ந்து கவனிக்கத்தக்கவை . நமது பாரம்பரிய சின்னங்கள் மீது உங்களுக்கு உள்ள பற்று பாராட்டத்தக்கவை .தங்களுடைய பணி சிறக்க எனது மனமார்ந்த பாராட்டுக்கள் .

  10. அன்பு விஜய்,
    தங்களது வர்ணணை மிகவும் ரசிக்கும்படி உள்ளது.
    Ayyampet Balachandran

  11. Very informative article about early Natrajar with learning details about bronze sculpture.

    Vijay sir i request you to write a article about comparisan of Nataraja’s different period (Centuries) sculptures , which help us to identify the period of Nataraja in temples during the visit.

    Hope to see more articles like this

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