Vriddachalam to Australia – Ardhanariswara’s murky details

There are some sculptures that imprint themselves into your memory – this androgyne was one such. From the moment i chanced on the picture of him/her i could never take my eyes of the beauty of this sculpture.

I had used it to show the refinement of the Ardhanari image post – little did I realise then that the beauty had been robbed !!

Readers must have read the post on the Sivapuram Somaskanda and it was with great interest that i read today’s Hindu article of the Australia Nataraja. Interestingly there was a mention of the site Chasing Aphrodite in the article as source for the images. One led to another and the detailed article and the Ardhanari begun to haunt me – vaguely familiar !!

It is quite interesting that the Museum records show the following proofs for its Provenance

Quote: Ardhanarishvara

In 2004, the Gallery purchased this Chola-period sculpture from Kapoor for more than $300,000. The 44-inch stone figure represents Ardhanarishvara, the androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati. It comes from Tamil Nadu, home to some 2500 important temples to Shiva. The image of Ardhanarishvara was likely in a niche on an external wall.

Kapoor provided two documents with the sculpture.

One is a receipt dated 1970, purportedly from Uttam Singh and Sons, the Delhi “copper and brass palace” that sold the sculpture to a private collector.

The second document purports to be a 2003 “Letter of Provenance” on letterhead from Art of the Past, Kapoor’s Madison Ave. gallery. It is signed by “Raj Mehgoub,” who claims to be the wife of a diplomat who lived in Delhi from 1968 to 1971.”

I ran back to my collections to trace the source of my reference.

Early Cola Architecture and Sculpture
; 866-1014 A.D.
Douglas E. Barrett – Published in 1974 !! intact in its Kosta in the temple !

and there in his plates is the same Kosta sculpture.

It is pretty clear even for a layman from the slab’s outline and the detailing in the sculpture as to the origin. I hope the authorities would be able to get their act together now and work towards bringing this invaluable treasure back to the Temple.

300th post – Connection of West and East by Art – Poetryinstone becomes a Record of History – Kra Narasiah

300 … Its been a fascination journey of discovery and many joyous friendships therein. “poetryinstone” has been a labour of love and along the way have been touched, tutored, supported,helped by countless individuals – boys, youngsters, relatives, family, friends and Scholars. Yes, Scholars – many of whom shared their countless pearls of wisdom with a novice like me without any reservations, encouraging me to plough on – so far its been an eye opener and yet just a scratch on the surface !

Today, one such amazing individual – a scholar par excellence, a well wisher in the truest sense – Kadalodi Sri Narasiah Sir honors the site with an unique guest post.

What is your first response on seeing the images below?

Photos courtesy: Flickr: Pigalle

“Some of the better maintained Nayak temples in South India??” read on to know more about the remarkable tale of these stones and their journey. Why i request Sir to take this as a subject was it was this discussion that started our serious interaction, almost 6 years ago, in a egroup – he posted these lines:

” There is a temple called Madanagopalswami temple in Madurai which historically dates to 16th century. There in front of the temple now, is a road lined up with shops on either side. There was in this place a full fledged Mandapam with sculptures. This entire mandapam ……………………………..In the meantime this lady passed away and her family members, Susan Pepper Gibson, Mary Gibson Henry, and Henry C. Gibson , procured the material and presented the lot in memory of Adeline Pepper Gibson to the Art museum at Philadelphia. Now the whole lot is housed in Gallery No. 224, second floor of the museum re-erected as a mandapam”

Imagine him with an incredible array of accomplishments:

Profession: Retired Chief Mechanical Engineer of Vizag Port.
Former Consultant to the World Bank for the Emergency rehabilitation Programme of Kingdom of Cambodia.
Former ADB consultant, Visiting Faculty AMET University for MBA Programme. (Terminal Management and IMO related subjects)
Education: Marine engineering. I. N. S. Shivaji Naval Engineering College Lonavla
Writing: over 100 short stories in Tamil (9 as Muthirai kathai in Vikatan.)
3 collections of short stories published, first one for 6 years as non-detailed study for UGs in Madura College. Second won 2 awards. Third won TN State award.
Non fiction. Kadal Vazhi Vanikam a treatise on sea trade from 3rd century BC –won TN State award.
Madrasapattinam the story of Chennai from 1630 to 1947. Won TN State award and Chidambaram Meyyapan award
Sadharana Manithan Biography of Chitti Sundararajan.
Madras (Tracing the history of Madras from 1369) in ENGLISH
Overcoming Challenges the story of 125 years of the Port of Chennai with S Muthiah (English)
Author of the book on the history of Madurai (Aalavai)

……interacting with a novice blogger like me. But his dedication shone through as he remembered and immediately confirmed to this guest post. readon…

Photos courtesy: Flickr: Pigalle

For what is preserved in the Philadelphia Museum (USA) from the pieces picked up from the temple of Madanagopalaswamy in Madurai, we must thank William Norman Brown(1892-1975). He was the first curator of Indian Art in the Museum appointed in 1931. He established the first academic department of South Asian Studies in the United States in 1947, when he was serving as chair of Sanskrit at the University of Pensylvania.

Before going into this detail we must remember Stella Kramrisch, whose name I stumbled upon when researching for the Lettered Dialogue, as this lady seemed to have invited Mathuram Bhoothalingam (Krithika) to the US.

Stella Kramrisch (1896- 1993) an Austrian born art enthusiast, was originally trained as a ballet dancer. While in Vienna with her parents at very young age she came across a translation of Bhagavath Gita, and was highly impressed by it. That induced her to study Sanskrit and thus earned her doctorate in Anthropology and Indian philosophy. When she was invited to speak at Oxford, Rabindranath Tagore heard her and impressed by her knowledge invited her to join Shantinketan in Calcutta. This happened in 1922. From Shantiniketan, she went to Calcutta University as a professor of Indian Art and served there from 1924 to 1950. Director of Philadelphis Museum of Art, Fiske Kimball persuaded Dr. Stella Kramrisch to join the Museum and assume the curatorial position. Thus she was responsible for opening a new section for Oriental Art in the Museum. Kramrisch expanded the Museum’s holdings in Indian and Himalayan art. In addition to bequeathing her personal art collection to the Museum, Kramrisch also endowed the curatorial chair of the department to which she had devoted nearly 40 years of scholarship and service. (Darielle Mason was the first to receive the new independent appointment in 1997 and it was from her I received much information when I was researching for Madurai)

In 1931 the Museum appointed W. Norman Brown (1892-1975) as its first curator of Indian art. Brown, who established the first academic department of South Asian Studies in the United States in 1947, was at that time serving as chair of Sanskrit at the University of Pennsylvania. Brown held honorary degrees from the West Bengal Government Sanskrit College, the University of Madras, India, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. We learn a lot of his effort from The personal papers of Professor W. Norman Brown, that contain lecture notes, drafts and completed papers, and materials related to research, archeology, travel, and letters.

His small (88 pages) but highly valuable book his findings in Madurai is titled A pillared hall from a temple at Madura, India, and is published by the University of Pensylvania press 1940. In this book he narrates the way he went about to establish the place of origin of this art pieces found in Philadelphia.

government service.


Printed at the University of Philadelphia Press 1940
The only Indian stone temple ensemble in America is the pillared Hall (mandapam) from Madura belonging to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and now installed in a gallery on the top floor of the south wing of eh main building at Fairmont. It consists of a number of monolithic pillars with corbels, Lion capitals and some ornamental frieze slabs, all apparently carved in the sixteenth century. These originally constituted part of the temple until at some unknown date they were defaced and the temple badly damaged or razed, possibly by a Mohammedan conqueror in the eighteenth century. No other museum anywhere can show such a large grouping of integrated architectural unit from a single building of India. The nearest approach in America is the small carved wooden room from a sixteenth century Jain sheine of Putan, Gujarat, in western India which is now set up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York. The unit in the Philadelphia Museum so rare outside of India illustrates so many aspects of India Architecture, sculpture and iconography that it has seemed worthy of description in a small monograph, especially since the dimension produces explanation of numerous points not heretofore treated in any publication.

The pieces constituting the pillared hall were originally acquired in Madura in 1912, by Adeline Pepper Gibson who died in France January 10, 1919, in the military service of the United States Base Hospital 38, American Expeditionary force at Nantes. They were presented to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in August 1919 in her memory by Mrs. J. Howard Gibson, Mrs. Norman Henry and Mr. Henry C. Gibson.

Shortly after the pieces were presented to the Museum, they were installed in Memorial Hall Fairmount Park, and the installation with a pageant called “The Building of The Temple” which was given daily on April 19, 20, 21 and 23, 1920. They remained in Memorial Hall until 1938 when it was possible to remove them to the India Gallery in the Fairmount building and commence to install them there with the aid of Federal Works Progress Administrative grant.

In 1934-35, aided by the late Mrs. Robert G. Logan, the Museum made it possible for me to examine the site from which the pieces had come. The mani purpose of my visit to Madura was to secure information that might assist in the future installation of the pieces at Fairmount. I went to Madura at the end of November and spent five days in intensive investigation, taking with me as interpreter and consultant Mr T. G. A. of the Government Museum Madras.who is mentioned frequently in the book. In the hope that additional pieces could be securd, Mr. J. Noraman Henry and Mr. Henry C. Gibson then generously gave a fund which they also graciously permitted to be drawn against the preparation of this book and for assistance in the final installation of the temple.

The main purpose of this work is to determine the site, date, and the significance of the elements comprising mandapams. To do so it has been necessary to develop some points in the history of Madura architecture showing that features described by Jowean Dubreil to the Madura period appear actually to have been known inn the latter part of the preceding period, that is the known one as Vijayanagara. In the iconography many types have received description which are without printed explanation anywhere.

A mirror point elsewhere has been to discuss the mandapam with enough attention to the back ground for a non-Indian visitor to the Museum to understand the meaning of the Indian terms employed and the cultural significance of the ensemble. To this end I have included the two very summary introductory chapters, which contain almost no new material and have throughout tried to treat the mythology with enough fullness to be intelligible.

The book has VI chapters.
I. The age of importance of Madura
II. South India temple architecture
III. The architectural units in the Mandapam. 16 simple columns 8’ 2” average height. 5 of one variety and others different; 14 compound columns 8’ 4” to 8’ 8” in height, 12 of one variety and one of different variety. 12 corbels; 12 lion capitals; 8 frieze slabs.When purchased in 1912, they were all lying in the compound of Madana Gopalswamy temple. When presented to the museum someone felt that the pieces do not belong to this temple but are from Perumal temple (Kudal Alagar Madura.)
Norman feels that the items might have come from other temples also. They may have been kept here.

Sivapuram Somaskanda – the untold story

The title of this post should raise a few eye brows – for the popular topic should be Sivapuram Nataraja – but no, it is no typo. What you are going to see today is the untold story of the “other” bronzes from the same temple. It is the dark side of what is considered to be a landmark judgement – of returning antiquities.

The case of the famed Sivapuram Nataraja is too easy to google – the jist is this….

1951: The Nataraja along with 5 other bronzes were found during renovation works carried out in the Sivapuram temple . and as per the Indian Treasure Trove act they were given to the temple ( ownership vested with the State).

“In 1951 Annamuthu Padayatchi of Sivapuram, Thanjavur unearthed 6 idols viz., Natarajar, Thirugnanasambandar, Somaskandar, Pillaiar and two Amman from his field.”

The Collector of Thanjavur, handed over the 6 idols to the temple authorities of Sri Sivagurunathasamy Temple of Sivapuram as per G.O.Ms.No. 2987/Revenue Department dated 29.10.1953.

1954-56: The Nataraja was sent for restoration to a local Stapathy ( afflicted by Bronze disease?). They were masterfully faked and originals stolen then.

The trustees of the temple wanted to repair the idols and this work was entrusted to Ramasamy Sthapathy of Kumbakonam in the year June 1954. In the year 1956 Thilakar of Kuttalam and his brother Doss induced Ramasamy Sthapathy to part with the original Natarajar and 5 other idols and to substitute the same with fake idols. Thilakar dispatched the original Natarajar idol to Lance Dane of Bombay, an Art Collector, arranged by Doss who kept the idol for 10 years

1963: an important clue and event – which we will see later.

1965: Mr Douglas Barret of the British Museum visits the temple. He denounces it as a fake and records it in his book. He also reveals that the original was with a dealer in Bombay.

Dr.Douglass Barret of British museum, in his book on ‘South Indian Bronze’ mentioned that the Natarajar idol in Sivapuram was a fake one and the original was with a private Art Collector. Tr.P.R.Srinivasan (curator of the Museum) alerted the Director of Museum and the Government of TamilNadu. An enquiry conducted on this resulted in registration of a case in Natchiarkoil
P.S.Cr.No.109/69 U/S 406 IPC. The Crime Branch C.I.D took up the investigation.

1967: The Nataraja idol came into the possession of Boman Behram, a Bombay collector of art, who sold it to Ben Heller, a New York art dealer.

Doss who kept the idol for 10 years and sold it to Bomman Beharan of Bombay who in turn sold it to Menu Narang. Benn Haller of New York bought it for 6 Lakhs rupees in 1969 and sold it to Norton Simon Foundation for USD .9 Lakhs

1973: Ben Heller sold the idol to the Norton Simon Foundation for a reported $ 900,000.5

1973: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York began planning an exhibition of the Norton Simon Foundation’s Indian art collection. Through the publicity surrounding the show, the Indian Government learned about the statue’s presence in the United States. This was the first time that the Indian Government had traced the object since its theft. Consequently, the Indian Government wrote a letter of protest to the MET and, with the help of the United States Department of State, blocked the show’s opening.
1973: The Nataraja idol was shipped to the British Museum for further restoration.

1973: The Indian Government filed suit in Los Angeles (the domicile of the Norton Simon Foundation) and New York (the domicile of Ben Heller) seeking restitution.Furthermore, it exercised political pressure on the Government of the United Kingdom, consequentially leading to Scotland Yard impounding the statue. The Norton Simon Foundation refused to return the Nataraja idol by asserting that India had no rights or title to it.

1975: India voluntarily interrupted the litigation for a set one-year period in a hope to facilitate an out-of-court settlement.

1976: The Norton Simon Foundation and the Government of India settled the case out-of-court by way of a mediated agreement.

The official Indian versions are the one’s in bold including below

A special party arrested Lance Dane, Thilakar, Doss, Ramasamy Sthapathy. Tr. S. Krishnaraj, the then D.I.G, CB-CID, TamilNadu visited United States and gathered evidence as to smuggling of the Idol. The Scotland Yard found that the Natarajar was sent to Mrs.Anna Plowden of London by Norton Simon Foundation for repairs as the idol developed corrosion and impounded it.

The Government of India filed a civil suit against the Norton Simon Foundation in England, New York and Los Angles claiming the Natarajar Idol. Thiru.K.K.Rajasekaran Nair, I.P.S, I.G.P (Crime), Madras sent a letter to the Government of TamilNadu to request the Ministry of External Affairs to get the Idol back. Dr.M.S.Nagaraja Rao, Director-General, Archaeological Survey of
India, NewDelhi got the Idol from the Indian Embassy, Washington and now the Idol is in the safe vault of Kabaleeswarar Temple, Mylapore, Chennai. All accused arrested and convicted.

There is no information about the remaining idols

This is where it gets interesting – what happened to the remaining 5 bronzes?

“In 1951 Annamuthu Padayatchi of Sivapuram, Thanjavur unearthed 6 idols viz., Natarajar, Thirugnanasambandar, Somaskandar, Pillaiar and two Amman from his field.””

Remember the year 1963. This was the year when Sri. P. R. Srinivasan brought out his magnificent volume – Bronzes of South India – P.R. Srinivasan (F.E. 1963, L.R. 1994)

Fortunately he had taken photos of not only the Nataraja but also the Somaskandar. He also clearly notes the location as “under worship in the Sivapuram temple”

Now things get interesting as there is this exhibit in flickr dated dec 20th 2008. pertaining to an exhibit in the Norton Simon Museum.

The plate giving the provenance is “interesting”

Even to a lay man the comparison is obvious.

The Museum’s site also features the same bronze but without the plate

Now a little more help from google reveals interesting additions to the same Museum’s collection in the year 1972 ans 1973

Saint Samabandar :



“In 1951 Annamuthu Padayatchi of Sivapuram, Thanjavur unearthed 6 idols viz., Natarajar, Thirugnanasambandar, Somaskandar, Pillaiar and two Amman from his field.”

The information of the case are from the website of the State = which ends as “All accused arrested and convicted. There is no information about the remaining idols “

What exactly were the terms of the out of Court settlement reached? That too with someone who quote:

Simon’s comments on the Nataraja published in The New York Times: “Hell, yes, it was smuggled,” he was quoted as saying. “I spent between $15 and $16 million in the last two years on Asian art, and most of it was smuggled.”

Did the Dancing Lord leave behind his consort, son and devotee behind !!!!

Note to audiences: Antiquities, Global auction houses and Museums are a tricky subject and it is easy to brand them – but it is important for all concerned to take in the sentiments involved. The objective of this post is not to slander but to bring to light the truth. As noticed above the sums involved are huge but these are our ancestral treasures – embodiments of God. The condition of the hundreds of bronzes in the State godowns in our own country cry for attention – the threat to them make their return to their abodes risky as well – it is time for the best brains to get together and think of a solution.





A bedecked Bronze – Ornamentation study

Looking at the sky rocketing price of gold one might think that for once this precious yellow metal might at last follow the principles of Economics ! but then postulates come with their own exceptions and for ages this metal has defied all ! So best is to leave its current behavior to those who possess means to posses it and for those lesser mortal restrict to studying its most desirable form – Ornaments.

Kandikai, Sarappali, Savadi, Pulippal Tali, tolmalai, vagu malai, tolvalai, Kataka valai the list continues – thanks to Sri Ganapathi Stapathi’s book Indian Sculpture and Iconography, try to figure out what they are!

Thanks to Shashwath for managing to capture this beautiful Ardhanari closeup for our study.

Try and Identify these now.

Let me make it easier for you

The Kandikai is easy to identify – being the shortest – a rope like necklace with a large bead at the centre and small beads on its either sides.

The Sarappali is also easy – most elaborate, thick with pearls on the top and leaf motif on the bottom.

The Pulippal Tali is simple – a tiger tooth worn on a slender chain. It is interesting to note that though this ornament can be worn by both male and female , in this Ardhanari form the artist has chosen to show the differentiation in this alone – the male side has the Pulippal Tali while it extends as a simpler Savadi on the female side. The Savadi being a slightly longer chain than the Kandikai interlaced with repeating floral motifs along its length.

There is a beautiful flourish on the shoulder – the Vagumalai which is a wavy ornament slung over the shoulder in front, while a similar flourish along the sides is the Tollmalai

The Yagnopavitham is multi stranded and the scared knot – the Brahma Mudichu is stylistically shown.

The lower torso and elbows also sport ornaments.

The stylistic Keyyura / Tollvalai on the elbow is brilliantly set off by another ornament – the Kataka valai. The slender curves of the waist are highlighted by the ornamental belt – Udara Bandam.

The Yagnopavitha would in early Pallava period split into 3 strands – the shorter Uras Sutram, the central Yagnopavitham and a longer Sthana sutram. The Sthana Sutram is missing in this Chola creation.

Let me make it easier for you. Check the 3 in this rare Kongu Bronze Vishnu.

Maybe this will give fresh ideas to our Jewellers for a truly Antique Jewellery range !!

In search of Angada – no not the Vaanara Prince

God knows when mankind’s obsession with ornaments began. From cowry shells to pottery beads to Palm lead ear rings, there has been quite a steady progression, till the yellow metal with its gem stone companions decided to up the ante. After that there was no looking back but today we are going back in time, when Rulers donated elephant loads of Gold and not stopping at seeing how their lockers would look like, we are going to look at how they dressed up their Gods. Why this sudden obsession you may ask, the objective is to seek out a rare ornament, a reclusive jewel, that shares its name with the famous Prince of Kishkindha – Angad.

We are aided in our search by two magnificent Chola bronzes – both from Newyork – one from the Metropolitan Museum and the other from the Brooklyn Museum.

Both are dated around the 10th C CE, we have Shiva as Chandrasekara and Vishnu – both are in Samabanga ( straight profile) with their characteristic attributes in their upper hands ie. Shiva his Axe and Deer while Vishnu has his Discus and Conch.

The Brooklyn Museum has a interesting account of how it sourced this fantastic bronze ( thanks to the link for the photo credits)

We will start with the Vishnu from the Met first.

The crown – Krita is exquisite and there is a small band that goes just at its base – this is called the Pattika. Depending on the kind of embellishments that go on it – it can be called a Rathna Pattika etc.

Being a Chola bronze, assigned to the 10th C CE ( 970 CE – am not sure how such a sure date can be assigned), the sacred thread falls in a pretty straight forward manner over the chest to the waist ( compare with the early Vishnu Bronzes post where the thread goes over the right forearm – called the niveeta manner of wearing it )

Then comes the characteristic stomach band – not essentially a belt to hold the lower garment but more like fashion accessory worn just around the floating rib – the Udara Bandana,. ( btw, the belt is called the Kati Bandana)

We cross over to the hands to see if we can spot the elusive ornament. This arm band is called the Keyura.

Thanks to Rajesh & karthik’s excellent illustrations on their site Aakruti , we have access to some wonderful Iconographic illustrations to help us understand them better.

The things to note are the belt buckle – the Simha Mukha and the lose stylishly flowing U shaped lower garment is the Kati Vastra.

Notice the right hand held in the protective Abhaya Hasta

The left hand hangs loosely and rests on the left hip in a stylish mudra – called the Katyavalambita pose with the hand resting as the Kati Hasta.

Still no sign of the Angada?

Let us see if we can spot it in the Chandrasekara Bronze.

The right hand is held in the Abhaya Hasta as in the Vishnu bronze but the left hand is different.

There are two very similar poses, the Kataka hasta and the Simha karna Hasta.

There is not much between the two, except for a slight extension on the middle finger in the Simha Karna. The Kataka Hasta however, is normally seen in bronze figurines of Goddesses, usually to hold a flower ( fresh flowers inserted in the hands of the deity). So, when we analyse the posture, we do spot the slight extension on the middle finger, we could possibly identify as Simha Karna. ( Sri Gopinath Rao in Elements of Hindu Iconography kind of uses both almost interchangeably – need to refer more works to differentiate / define)

Now for our elusive Angada – its a arm ornament, but we did not spot any so far. Well, its because it is well hidden. We actually need to go behind to notice it.

Do you spot it – yes, its the Angada. An upper arm ornament !

Picture courtesy: Aaakruti, Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum.

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….

How to distinguish between Sri Devi and Bhu Devi

There are always trick questions and this is one such. When you murthis with multiple consorts how would you distinguish between them. Are there standard right left positioning – like Vishnu with Sridevi and Bhudevi, how would you distinguish between them. You might ask, why to seek, but then each are expected to bless you with a different gift hamper.

This is especially true when only one is found as part of a buried horde. The answer is pretty simple of course, Iconographic guidelines stipulate that Sridevi always comes with a Kuchabandha or breast band, whereas Bhudevi is without.

Let us test this out in. The Vishnu cave ( Olipathi vishnu griham) in Malaiyadipatti has a depiction of Vishnu with his consorts.

Lets step in closer to view the costumes of the two ladies.

You can clearly make out the distinctions between the two of them.

Let us know see this wonderful 10 C CE bronze currently on exhibit at the London Museum.

We will study the evolution of the Vishnu bronze images including a few early period bronzes shortly, but for the purpose of today’s study, lets just analyse the distinction in wearing the Kuchabandha.

Lets go closer to Sridevi

You can see that she clearly wears the Kuchabhanda.

Now for Bhudevi, who doesn’t wear it.

Now, comes the small niggle. The display board under Bhudevi reads as ” Here she wears the characteristic Kuchabandha or breast band‘ which is wrong. She is not wearing in this bronze nor does she ever portrayed as wearing under iconographic canons.

Hope the authorities in the London Museum can make this small correction.

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.

Srivatsam – the mole that adorns the chest of Vishnu

Thanks to a chance visit to the local museum along with Sakthis, we are seeing an amazing Chola stone sculpture – Vishnu. Working with granite is a true test for a sculptor, to bring out the soft benevolent grace of Vishnu into the hard stone – working with a iron chisel shaping his supple cheeks, hammering away at his immaculate ornaments, it must have been so fulfilling to him to come out successful in this test of his skill with zero place for error.

Sadly, this museum exhibit has been subjected to some deliberate acts of vandalism – a nose cut would be inappropriate to use here, but such stone sculptures would have had to be scrapped and not suitable for worship !! Its a painful realisation of human need and greed , a human hand created such a thing of beauty while another destroyed it, Gold, God and Glory are indeed engines of great motivation and destruction.

Letting aside the disfigurement, the beauty of this sculpture doesn’t shed its secrets easily to a casual viewer. Leonardo da Vinci apparently said that ” There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see”

What is there to see in this sculpture. Not wanting to go into too much depth, will take a perfect ( to be read as non disfigured one) later to discuss the different aspects.

One is his brilliant lion motif belt buckle.

The other is more interesting and one which we studied in the bronze cast figures. The Mole – srivatsam being represented here as a triangular projection.

The sculptor took great care to depict this, for you have to watch a stone worker work to chip away with his chisel removing layer upon layer to create this effect or projection in stone.

Can we study this in comparison to the bronze and maybe check in other collections and see how this mark evolved!!

How much would you give in for your better half

How much would you give in for your better half ? Sorry to disappoint you, but we are still talking sculpture here.

We had seen in the previous post how the Ardhanari image evolved including and highlighting stylistic elements of the male and female portions and the necessity of the sculptor to bring in the bull ( Nandhi) to balance the image. We stopped with stone sculptures with a promise to bring similar study into metal/bronze images.

Chola bronzes are really stunning creations of sublime beauty. The lure of such pieces are so great that once you are caught in their timeless charm, its difficult not to fall in love with them. So how better to start this discussion on the evolution of Ardhanari form from stone to metal, but to showcase a stunning bronze – not any bronze but a very very special bronze. ( collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio)

Once again a few line drawings ( tracings) to take you through the stylistic aspects

A closeup first.

Some interesting questions. Note Shiva’s side has two hands while Umai has only one. Read somewhere that its to show the male dominance – how ridiculous. This entire concept is based on showcasing the equality of the two sexes! Why then are the two hands for Shiva? Well lets step a bit back and see the larger picture

The exaggerated curve of the waist for Umai , the tribanga ( triple flexion) all follow the styling in stone to the T. ( lets compare the two)

Notice the splendid work on Umai’s hands. Picture her delicate fingers gently holding a lotus by its stalk! Compare it with Shiva’s hand holding the Ax. They balance out each other in terms of composition. So now to our pet theory.

Lets for a second take out the Bull and the additional hand and see the image for arguments sake.

You can see the torso leaning awkardly to the right, for want of a better example – in a crowded bus, imagine you reaching out to the conductor to buy a ticket – thats the pose. Jokes, apart, is shiva giving into Parvathi’s might or is Parvathi being swayed / pulled by shiva? Anyway, the second hand of Shiva resting on the bull is purely to balance the tilt.

Arvind raised an interesting question. The flexing of shiva’s leg.

Quote: “does the bent knees and the posture of the lower limbs on the male side indicate a longer limb (as much as it does muscular limb, which is pronounced in certain sculptures and visually identifiable).
Given the bend of the limb and also the lean of the hip, though I get a feel of longer limb on the male side”

Welcome viewers views on this. We will study this in similar bronze sculptures of simple ( not composite ) forms in an other post.

Hey, but this was introduced as no ordinary bronze. Whats so special about this bronze?

Its an unique style – a composite icon formed with half a male, half a female, a bull all framed into a Trident. Wow!! If this is not poetry, what is!!!