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5. Paravai
India, Tamil Nadu, Chola circa 1100 CE
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method
Height 42.5 cm

Paravai was the wife of the Hindu saint and devotional poet Sundaramurti Nayanar, a devotee of Lord Shiva. From her earliest childhood she was a model of virtue and soon became a worshipper of the inseparable Shivashakthi. Not only was Paravai lovely to look at, she also possessed a voice whose beauty as she poured her heart into hymns to the glory of the god and goddess ravished all who heard it. Paravai’s life was one of dedication to the Lord and love for her husband Sundara, of complete devotion and service. As a result the goddess Parvati took Paravai into her abode to be her kamalini or attendant.

Paravai stands on a circular lotus pedestal and adopts a sensuous and elegant tribhanga or ‘thrice bent’ pose. Her raised right hand would originally have held an attribute; her left arm is extended in lolahasta. She is attired in a fine pleated dhoti secured by a jewelled hip band and a lavish array of jewellery – necklaces, bracelets, anklets, rings and the sacred yagnopavita. She also wears a beautifully-shaped madhammila headdress similar to that of the goddess Sita, who is often depicted standing on her husband Rama’s right with her hip accordingly swaying to the right. Unlike Paravai, who is shown with the yagnopavita or sacred cord, Sita has a typical svarnvaikasa or triple cross chain beneath her breasts. The holes in the pedestal indicate that this statue was intended to be carried in processions.

The period of the Imperial Cholas (ca 850-1250) was an age of continuous improvement and refinement in art. This fine sculpture of Paravai is a classic example of the Chola style, whose bronzes are among the highlights of Indian civilization. The broad collar, the beautiful hairstyle, the engraved patterns on the dhoti, as well as the pronounced proportions of the torso and the limbs are all typical of the period.

This graceful sculpture represents the goddess Paravai as an ideal beauty with high breasts, narrow waist, and rounded hips, conforming to established systems of classic Chola proportions. The piece is distinguished by the skilful and detailed casting of every element, each one exquisitely rendered, and complemented by a beautiful natural patina and surface caused by ritual cleaning during the acts of worship. The convincing balance of the piece when viewed from every angle and the expressive lively face are qualities found in only the finest bronze sculptures from South India.

Spink and Son Ltd, England, 1981.
Galerie Marco Polo, Collection Mr E. Isacco, Italy.
Collection Mr P. Jourdan-Barry, France.

Octagon, Spink & Son Ltd, London, volume XVIII, 1981.

D.R. Thapar, Icons in Bronze, New York, 1961, fig. 73.
V. Dehejia, Art of the Imperial Cholas, New York, 1990, pp. 74-76, fig. 57.
P.R. Srinivasan, Bronzes of South India, Chennai, 1994, fig. 312.

all text, images © Marcel Nies
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