Shiva, meaning auspicious one, is one of the most recognizable deities of the Hindu pantheon. His function as part of the Trimurti (Hindu Trinity) is that of the Destroyer or more appropriately the Transformer. A complex deity, Shiva has many forms, Pasupati – Lord of All Creatures, Nataraja – God of Wisdom and Performing Arts, Vinadhara – Lord of Music and Chandrashekhara – Lord of medicinal plants, as shown in this marvelous image from the Chola dynasty.
Having defeated the Pandyas of Madurai, the Chola Empire stretched from Sri Lanka to the Krishna basin in the North. The kingdoms of the Deccan were feudatories of the Cholas and the Chalukyas paid tribute to them as well. The contribution of the Chola dynasty can be seen in Literature, Religion and of course Art. The Cholas continued building temples, as did their predecessors the Pallavas, influencing the Dravidian temple design. Although they erected numerous temples for Shiva, the Cholas were by no means intolerant of Vaishnavites, having built temples in honor of Lord Vishnu and bestowing gifts and grants in his honor as well.
Shiva in many ways is the most human of the Hindu gods. As Pal notes, “He is at once gracious and destructive, erotic and ascetic, sedentary and nomadic, auspicious and ominous. He has a wife and family but is a restless wanderer, a haunter of the cremation ground.” (Pal, 1997, pg. 6) Here he is shown standing on a double lotus pedestal atop a square two tiered plinth, with his primary right hand in abhaya mudra, while his upper two hands hold an axe and antelope both attributes of Shiva. The strong and crisp casting of this image, in excellent condition, exemplifies the mastery of the South Indian bronze casters in the cire perdue (lostwax) process. The art and architecture of the Chola dynasty influenced the artistic canons of Southeast Asia.
Provenance: Sotheby’s NY · March 26, 1998 · Lot 58
Christie’s London · June 13, 1979 · Lot 179
Exhibited: Denver Art Museum · December 1998 – September 2010