The earliest Vishnu Bronzes and their current state

“Ignorance is Bliss” they say and so too ” A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”! The real meaning of these two dawned on me via the events that unfurled over the last couple of months.

A fortuitous visit to London made me avail of an exciting visit to the Museums in London and the honeymoon with bronzes continued in their splendid confines. The little initiation into Bronzes led me to the smaller exhibits as the early bronzes were diminutive in size but enormous in value – not just in $ terms but the wealth of information they held within them.

The object that caught my attention was an early Vishnu bronze, dated to the 9th C. The beauty of the exhibit was matched by the quality of the display thereby offering it the respect it deserved.

The characteristics of this bronze beauty, the pronounced Srivatsa mark, the Yagnopavitha etc give it a late Pallava or early Chola date. Why early Chola is simple to understand – firstly due to its smaller size, the Prayoga Chakra etc.

Why late Pallava needed further study. ( we will study them all in detail in the coming posts). This is where the pursuit started to find bronzes that would predate the above beauty.

Once again, the 1963 publication Bronzes of South India – P.R. Srinivasan, came to help. The earliest Vishnu Bronzes assigned to the Pallava period – 8th C CE are the Perunthottam bronzes ( Mayavaram region).

The earliest of course is this beauty – dated to the early half of the 8th C CE

The other follows closely – second half of the 8th C CE.

They are so important that their features are studied in 5 pages in the seminal work by Sri P.R. Srinivasan. Before, we dwell into that, the current location mentioned is what sent my heart racing – Tanjore Art Gallery ! It set my mind racing as there was no memory of seeing such an exhibit there. Checked with our friends and the answer again was in the negative. Not willing to give up, i scanned through the entire database of images from the Tanjore Art Gallery and well past 4 am hit pay dirt in Satheesh’s contributions.

Yes, there they were, relegated to the last row of an unnamed cabinet, with just some numbers painted on them, amidst later statues. Do you spot them now?

I wanted to make sure that it was indeed these priceless exhibits that are suffering this ignominy – so I sought the help of friends and Satheesh again obliged by making the trip to the gallery. This time, they seemed in a much sadder state – with some broken plastic thrown into the cabinet as well. But, yes, there is no doubt they are indeed the earliest known Vishnu Bronzes of South India.

What sickens me is the lackadaisical attitude, am sure that any scholar of repute would know the value of such an exhibit. Infact, the above mentioned book is on sale at the Chennai Museum and its first Hindu article are these bronzes ( following Buddhist statues). I hope someone will help to take this to the notice of the authorities and help to set up a proper display befitting the stature of these priceless treasures.

Coming back to study the bronzes, its really an interesting topic. I would first like to throw up some early Stone standing sama bhanga Vishnu’s for your reference – The famous Vishnu from the shrine sculptured in relief in the Mallai great penance panel, the Vishnu from the Adhi varaha Mandabam, The Harihara from the Dharamaraja Ratha ( thanks Saurabh for the two photos), the puzzling Vishnu from Kilamavilangai cave ( Thanks Shashwath).


The last row and last bench has always been my place and we will spend more time analysing these treasures of the back bench shortly.

To be continued….

11 thoughts on “The earliest Vishnu Bronzes and their current state

  1. I didn’t know this much details when you asked me to check again. Its a great post, murthy sirusu but keerthi perusu.

    Its very sad that they are not even cleaning the glass coverings!

  2. மிகவும் அரிய செய்திகள்;
    தற்போது காணப்படும் விஷ்ணு மூர்த்தங்கள் காலத்தால் பிற்பட்டவை என்பது புரிகிறது

    தேவ்

  3. good post much informative can u tell me why london museum vishnu is holding prayogachakra in left hand instead in right

  4. அன்பு நண்பரே,
    தற்பொழுது சரி செய்யப்பட்டுள்ளதா? சரி செய்ய தனியார் உதவலாமா?

  5. Those inwardly curved arms are very strange. There’s a small, similar one in the National Museum, New Delhi but my photo of it is blurry. It must be from the same period.

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