Temple bronzes produced under the Chola dynasty of South India is considered as one of the most outstanding works of the world. During the period the art of bronze casting reached a height unparalleled in the world.
It is said that bronze art during the Chola period reached its peak, especially during the reign of Raja I and Rajendra II. The Cholas captured power in the 9th century in Tamil Nadu and their power lasted till the 13th century.
During their rule, they not only confined their power within South India but also expanded their rule to other neighbouring countries including Sri Lanka, Vietnam and South East Asia region. They ruled from their kingdom in Thanjavur and also maintained good diplomatic ties with Burma, China and Malaysia.
They gave patronage to numerous arts, literature, and poetry and built many stone temples with the excellent sculptural representation of Gods and dancing figures. For the purpose of worship, they installed numerous Bronze sculptures. Inside the temples, permanent stone sculptures were installed especially at the sanctum. Immovable stone images were installed inside the temple. The sculptures of the Chola period never failed to prove the exceptional mastery in the skill of the sculptors of that period. Numerous aspects of mastery in artistic skills were well displayed in the Chola period sculptural creations. Attractive figures, delicate moulding and technical sophistication played a pre-eminent position in their bronze creativity. The bronze sculptures of deities and Hindu saints of Chola period were created for the worship purposes.
The Chola period bronze sculptures were divided into three main schools. They are the Aditya, the Sembiyan Mahadevi and Raja Raja schools. The Aditya Chola period existed from 875 A.D to 906 A.D and his son Parantaka whose period lasted from 906 A.D to 955 A.D. During their period, both of them built numerous majestic temples. At these temples, they installed beautiful bronze sculptures with perfect ornamental and costume decorations. Dancing image of Lord Siva is often seen in the form of Nataraja.
A Chola Queen named Sembiyan Mahadevi who was one the great Saiva devotees built numerous temples and installed several sculptural images of Hindu deities in the temples. Another noteworthy fact should be mentioned here is while casting the bronze sculptures, sculptors originally carved the sculptures with costume and ornamental decorations. Even such a factor was mentioned in 10th-century inscriptions.
The mould of the sculpture is made out of wax. While moulding the bronze Hindu deities numerous rituals were performed at each stage of their creative process. The last stage of making deities is the eye placing ceremony. In the Hindu religious tradition stone and metal images are supposed to be used for the worship. These worshipping images are supposed to receive daily offerings. And on the auspicious and festival days special poojas are offered to them. Even these bronze images are taken out for temple processions and festivals. Hindus believe that priests invoke the deities to descend from a state of abstraction which enters into the immovable stone image enshrined in the sanctum.
Hindu bronze sculptures of Chola period represent a distinctive contribution to the world. It is generally said that most of the deities were traditionally made with copper. Generally, the deities were made with copper, brass, zinc, gold and silver with wax. According to Hindu philosophy, the human body is believed to be composed of five important elements, namely earth, water, fire, sky and air. These elements are collectively called Pancha Bothams. The five metals used in making the images are known as iyempon or Pancha Lokas (the statue made out of five metallic factors).
The Hindu Gods made out of five lokas (metals) are called Pancha Loka Murthis. Large bronze images were made for the purposes to take out in the temple processions. These bronze made statues of the temple deities are used for daily rituals, temple festival and festival processions. In the idol worship, these sculptures are wrapped with expensive material and they were further adorned with flower garlands and jewellery. (Dr Subashini Pathmanathan)