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7. Tirujnana Sambandar
India, Tamil Nadu, Pandya, 13th century
Bronze
height 56.2 cm
Tirujnana Sambandar

This happy dancing bronze child embodies an incident in the early life of Tirujnana Sambandar, a wandering priest and poet who lived in southern India in the seventh or eighth century. A fervent worshipper of Shiva, he travelled from temple to temple, singing in praise of his deity. He was not the only one to do so – over the next couple of centuries seven hundred hymns composed by sixty three Shaivite saints or ‘Nayanars’ were collected in a twelve-volume work entitled ‘Devaram’. But he was one of the three most important. Together with Appar and Sundarar, Tirujnana Sambandar was and still is the most famous Nayanar.

Sambandar was born in the Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu. When he was just four years old, so the story goes, his father left him to play by the river while he took a ritual bath. He returned to fnd the child dancing ecstatically, with milk dripping down his chin. When asked where the milk came from the little boy pointed to the sky, where Parvati had appeared. Though she had never borne a child herself she had been overcome with maternal feeling at the sight of the child, and gave him milk from her own breast. Having drunk the ‘milk of wisdom’ (jnana) the child became known and venerated as Jnana or Tiru-jnana Sambandar.

Though Sambandar is also represented in two other forms, this one – a small child dancing with joy – is by far the most popular. Standing on his right leg and raising the left, he gracefully extends his left arm in a gesture known as kari-hasta while making the sign of amazement, vismaya-hasta, with his right hand. His face expresses the greatest delight, adbhuta. He wears only jewellery: a high conical tiara, concentric necklaces to which a cord that encircles his torso is attached, shoulder tassels, the traditional infant’s girdle of bells (kimkini), armbands, wristlets, anklets and rings. Stylistically, many of those elements, as well as the elongated eyes, indicate the later Chola or, more likely, the earlier Pandya period, the late twelfth to early thirteenth century. Likewise the pedestal – a circular double lotus on a square base – on which Sambandar dances.

Sambandar’s pose, urdhajanvasan, is practiced in Bharatanatyam, one of the oldest classical dance genres in India. This is important to know because it distinguishes him from the well-known image of the young dancing Krishna, who is depicted in the position called navanitaprianritta. Both look very similar and can easily be mixed up. But little Krishna stands on his left leg, which inverts the whole posture.

This bronze piece was so skillfully cast that no subsequent carving was needed to produce the smooth finish of the skin. Time has given it a beautiful deep brown patina.

Provenance:
Collection Mr. J. Mahé, Paris, before 1972.
Collection Mr. M. Gazan, Dilbeek, 1972-1986.
Collection Prof. Dr. Fr. Adams, Gent, 1986-2018.

Exhibited:
Beeldhouwkunst uit Indië, Generale Bankmaatschappij, Brussels, 08.12.1978-31.01.1979.
On loan at the Ethnographic Museum Antwerpen, 1989-2009.
Cast for Eternity, Bronze Masterworks from India and the Himalayas in Belgian and Dutch Collections, Ethnographic Museum, Antwerpen, 04.02.2005-16.06.2005.

Published:
A. Neven, Beeldhouwkunst uit Indië, Generale Bankmaatschappij, Brussels, 1978, fig. 44.
F. Adams and H. Wouters The Application of Spectroscopic Methods in the Study of two South Indian Bronzes, University of Antwerp (UIA), ESN - European Spectroscopy News, 76, Wilrijk, 1987, pp. 10-17.
J. Van Alphen, Cast for Eternity, Bronze Masterworks from India and the Himalayas in Belgian and Dutch Collections, Ethnographic Museum, Antwerpen, 2005, introduction p. 26, and fig. 8.

Report:
A microscopical analysis of the bronze by F. Adams & H. Wouters, Department of Chemistry, University of Antwerp, 1987.

Literature:
J. E. van Lohuizen-de Leeuw, Indian Sculptures, Museum Rietberg, Zürich, 1964, fig. 43.
O. C. Gangoly, South Indian Bronzes, Calcutta, 1978, Pls. 64 & 64A.
A. Neven, Beeldhouwkunst uit Indië, Generale Bankmaatschappij, Brussels, 1978, fig. 44.
I. Heermann, e.a., Ferne Völker, Frühe Zeiten: Kunstwerke aus dem Linden-Museum Stuttgart, Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde, Recklinghausen, 1982, fig. E32.
R. Russek, Hinduismus, Bilderkanon und Deutung, München, 1986, fig. 140.
V. Dehejia, The Sensuous and the Sacred, Chola Bronzes from South India, New York, 2002, figs. 27 & 28.
J. Guy and V. Dehejia, Chola, Sacred Bronzes of Southern India, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006, fig. 16.

Price On Request

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