Chola: Sacred Bronzes of Southern India

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Credits to Ms. Jing Turalba

Text of Chola: Sacred Bronzes of Southern India

CHOL ASacred Bronzes of Southern India

This guide is given out free to teachers and students with an exhibition ticket and student or teacher ID at the Education Desk. It is available to other visitors from the RA Shop at a cost of 3.95 (while stocks last).

CHOL ASacred Bronzes of Southern IndiaSackler Galleries 11 November 2006 25 February 2007

IntroductionAn imperial dynasty that emerged in the ninth century, the Cholas went on to rule over much of southern India for the next four hundred years, during which time they undertook an extensive programme of temple construction that transformed the landscape of the region. Rich endowments funded the ritual activities of these temples and bronze representations of Hindu gods, especially those associated with Shiva and Vishnu, were specially commissioned from master craftsmen for ritual worship in the new temples. These gures, many of which are still the objects of devotion in temples a thousand years after their creation, constitute one of the greatest bodies of cast-bronze sculpture in world art. It is these objects that are the focus of this exhibition.

HinduismHinduism, the religion of the Cholas, is a multifaceted religion that has come to be specically associated with India. Indeed the terms Hindu and India both have origins in the Persian word for the river Indus. Hindu literally means religion of the Indians. India can be divided into four regions: the mountain chains of the north including the Himalayas; the great southward-owing river valleys such as those formed by the sacred Indus and Ganges rivers; the high central plateau of the Deccan; and the coastal plains of the far south which is where the Cholas rose to prominence. Marked by regional differences, there is a very strong emotional bond that ties Hinduism to the land of India. Sanskrit, which became the lingua franca of Hinduism, is a language that evolved through the presence of the Indo-Aryans who conquered northwest India in the second millennium BC and is the language of ancient scripts. This gives some idea of the complexity of Hindu, a religion which has evolved from, and absorbed elements of, a wide range of inuences over some four millennia. Sanskrit, an Indo-Aryan language, belongs to the Indo-European family of languages that includes Persian, Greek, Latin and most European languages. Sanskrit counts Gujarati, Hindi and Bengali as among its many linguistic descendants. The languages of the south of India, however, are not descended from Sanskrit but form part of the independent Dravidian language group, which boasts some 73 different languages. One of the most widely spoken and purest of the Dravidian languages is Tamil, hence Tamil Nadu, a living classical language over 2,000 years old. Tamil was the language of the Cholas and was, therefore, used to compose the poetry of the saints and the founding texts which can be found decorating temples. Dravidian can also be used to refer to the region and people of South India. Hindu belief is based on oral traditions from a wide range of inuences that were passed down over generations, although some of these were also recorded in Sanskrit manuscripts. There is thought to be great continuity in Indian religion that originates in the period referred to as the Vedic, pre-Hindu India of the rst and second millennia BC. The Vedas, which mean knowledge, are texts that date from this period and collectively this group of books is considered to be the foundation on which later Hindu activity is based. There are four Vedas, namely Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yayur Veda and Atharva Veda. These are followed by two great Sanskrit epics of Hindu India called the smriti or remembered literature. The rst of these is the Mahabharata,1

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE EXHIBITION FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTSWritten by Adrian K. Locke For the Education Department Royal Academy of Arts

FRONT COVER Detail of Cat. 13 Trident with Shiva as Vrishabhavana (Rider of the Bull) BACK COVER Cat. 14 Ganesha [reverse view ]

Designed by Isambard Thomas, London Printed by Burlington


Pennar River

The Chola territories in southern India, c.8501250Cartography by Isambard Thomas Map relief 1995 Digital Wisdom Inc.

r ive rR ala P

Pon nai Riv er

Kaveri River

which at more than 74,000 verses is one of the longest poems ever written. Perhaps the best known part of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad Gita which describes the events preceding the battle between the Pandyas and the Kauravas, when the Pandya leader Arjuna turns to Krishna for spiritual advice. The second Sanskrit epic is the Ramayana which recounts the many adventures of Rama, his wife Sita, his brother Lakshmana and the monkey general Hanuman. Hinduism is primarily a devotional religion which means that the presence of a god or gods is acknowledged by the individual. These gods are usually worshipped in structures which can range from very simple man-made buildings to very elaborate stone-built temples. Sculpture, painting and ritual objects are used in the worship of these gods. Although the space where the god is enshrined in a temple, referred to as the inner sanctum, is not normally very large, the temple complex can be extensive. Part of the reason for these large temple complexes is the need to provide space for processions, essential components of temple activity and Hindu worship. For the devotees, participating in processions and annual pilgrimages is a very important aspect of their devotion, as it allows the individual the opportunity to supplicate or offer thanks to the god or gods. The ability to participate in these activities also allows the devotee to come into direct contact with the gods and allows the individual to make puja (offerings such as incense, fruit, milk and ghee-fuelled lamps) and, more signicantly, darshan, in which the participant communicates with the deity through direct eye contact. Hindus also believe in the immortality of the soul and in reincarnation. Two central concepts of Hinduism are dharma, a complex term meaning among many things duty, and karma, which determines the quality of present and future lives. There are three main gods in Hinduism: Shiva, Vishnu and Devi reect Hinduisms abilities for multiplicity, variety and unity. The majority of Hindus are either followers of Shiva or Vishnu. Temples, like the followers, devoted to either one of these two principal deities are referred to as Shaivite or Vaishnavite.









A short history of the CholaINDIAN OCEAN

Cat. 1 [overleaf] Shiva as Nataraja (Lord of Dance) Eleventh century Bronze 111.5 101.65 cmThe Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 1930.331 Photo The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund 1930.331

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200 miles 300 kilometres

Before the middle of the ninth century the Cholas were one of a number of powerful independent cultural groups jockeying for position in southern India, the region today known as the state of Tamil Nadu. Their rivals were principally the Pallavas, the Pandyas, the Cheras and, further to the north, the Chalukyas. Together these groups vied with each other for control over the rich fertile ood plains of southern India centred around the sacred river Kaveri. Little is known about the early Cholas until the rise of Vijayalaya (ruled ?848871), whose exploits are known because they were recorded in stone inscriptions and copper-plate foundation documents. Taking advantage of a conict between the Pallava and the Pandya, Vijayalaya captured the town of Tanjavur where he established a royal court and founded the dynastic line of the Cholas. Tanjavur became the imperial Chola capital which was later moved to Gangaikondacholapuram. In addition, Kanchipuram and Madurai both became established as important regional centres. The Chola dynasty ruled for a further four hundred years during which time they became extremely powerful politically, economically and, signicantly, culturally. Although their fortunes uctuated over this period, at their height the Cholas ruled over much of southern India,3

r ive rR tta Ve


Cosmic Dance of Shiva as Lord of the Dance Nataraja (symbol of the eternal movement of the universe)

Drum damaru A symbol of creation: the universe was set in motion by the regular rhythm of the dance. Also combination of male and female attributes

Fire agni Representing destruction as well as energy in its purest form but also creation

Abhaya position blessing, protection, reassurance Gesture of an Elephant gesture of greatest strength and power

Ring of Fire prabha Representing the cyclical, cosmic concept of time, an endless cycle of creation and destruction

Raised foot gesture of liberation

Demon Dwarf Mushalagan Representing ignorance

extending their control to include Sri Lanka, the Maldives, parts of Indonesia and north up the coast of the Bay of Bengal to the Godavari basin (in the modern state of Pradesh). Two early rulers, Aditya I (ruled 871907) and Parantaka (ruled 907947), established the distinctive Chola architectural style in which elegant stonebuilt temples boasted well proportioned exteriors with a ne balance between carved detail and plain surfaces. Painted stone sculptures were then added. The most celebrated rulers during this Medieval period (8481070) were Vijayayala, Rajaraja I (ruled 9851014), who adopted an aggressive policy of territorial and maritime expansion, and his son Rajendra I (ruled 10121044), who consolidated Chola power throughout the region. The great agricultural wealth of the region combined with control of the seaboard gave the Cholas access to the prosperous maritime trade routes which included those