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6. Manikkavacakar
India, Tamil Nadu
Chola 12th-13th century
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method
Height: 56cm

Manikkavacakar, the prominent Saint living in Southern India in the 9th century wrote the famous ‘Tiruvasakam’ poems book of Shaiva hymns, as well as part of the ‘Saivite Tirumurai’, the key religious text of Tamil language Shaiva Siddhanta. The Pandya king Varagunavarman II (c. 862 CE. – 885 CE.) appointed him as prime minister living in Madurai. Manikkavacakar’s main book is considered a poetic expression of the joy of God-experience, the anguish of being separated from God. For that reason his devotional appeal is among the strongest of the Tamil Saints, as the hymns he composed gave great importance to the expression of emotion and knowledge.

The Saint is standing in an elegant tribhanga posture on a padmapitha, a lotusthrone on an architectural pedestal. His left hand holds a sutra, a leaf of the manuscript praising Shiva and symbolizing his wisdom. His right hand is slightly raised in the gesture of upadesa, symbolising teaching. Wearing a brief loincloth tied in a knot that rests against his right thigh, he is portrayed with a single row of haircurls that frame the forehead, open elongated earlobes with ornaments, two pearled necklaces, flowers above the ears, a rosary worn on his right wrist (a typical characteristic of Mannikavacakar) and a jaynopavita, the holy Brahmical cord, depicted diagonally across his body. This bronze was created to be enshrined in a sanctuary, and has four open rings on the pedestal, indicating it was carried in processions.

The period of the Imperial Cholas (ca 850 -1250) was an age of continuous improvement and refinement in art. This superb sculpture of Mannikkavacakar is a wonderful example of the Chola style, whose bronzes are among the highlights of Indian civilization. The jewelry and the pronounced proportions of the torso and the limbs are typical of the period. This graceful sculpture is distinguished by the detailed casting of every element, each exquisitely rendered, and complemented by a beautiful natural patina and surface caused by ritual cleaning during the acts of worship. The magnificent 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.

Mr. N. Goulandris, Greece.
Spink & Son Ltd, London, before 1978.
Mr. & Mrs. John Meyer, The Netherlands, 1986–2003.
Mr. Enrico Castellani, Milano, 2003–2017.

Spink & Son Ltd, Indian and South East Asian Art, London, 1978, p. 32, fg. 69. 

S.R. Balasubrahmanyam, Middle Chola Temples, 1977, fg. 74.
A. Neven, Beeldhouwkunst uit Indie, Brussels, 1978, pp. 118–119, fg. 47.
C. Sivaramamurti, South Indian Bronzes, New Delhi, India, 1981, fgs. 56c & 57b.
Exhibition catalogue ‘In the Image of Man’, Arts Coucil of Great Britain, 1982, p. 169, fg. 259.
M. Thomsen, Südasian from the exhibition ‘Ferne Völker – Frühe Zeiten’ Linden Museum, Stuttgart, 1982, fg. E33.
Exhibition catalogue Treasures of Asian Art; Selections from the Mr and Mrs John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1999, p. 30, fg. 14.
V. Dehejia, The Sensuous and the Sacred, Chola Bronzes from South India, New York, 2002, pp. 168–169, fg. 36 

Detail: close-up view
all text, images © Marcel Nies
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