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Marcel Nies

6. Shiva and Parvati
India; Pandya
circa 1300 A.D.
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method, fine patina
height 27 cm.

Shiva and Parvati

Shiva and his Sakti Parvati are the most popular couple in the Hindu pantheon. This particular group is also known as 'the divine marriage'; when in each others' company both of the gods are at peace. Their marriage was an alliance of two mighty powers, a union of male and female principles. As the powerful god in the cycle of destruction, preservation and creation, Shiva is characterized by his cosmic energy, which is connected with his sakti. The three eyes of 'the great lord' represent the sun, the moon and fire; the three sources of light that illuminate the earth, the sphere of space, and the sky. Shiva's jata (knot of matted hair) represents the lord of wind. The crescent moon in his hairdress shows the power of procreation co-existent with that of destruction. The holy Ganges is the symbol of purification, it flows from Shiva's crown and represents the causal waters. Parvati, the daughter of the mountains and the ultimate oneness of all things in the universe is the remover of misfortune and symbolises the power of realisation, transcendent knowledge and the energy which destroys the world of illusion.

The divine couple is portrayed in an elegant tribhanga (trice bent) posture, each of them standing on a separate lotus throne supported by a pedestal. Depicted with four hands, Shiva holds a battle axe, the deer (symbolising his intimate association with animals) and a small citrus fruit (symbolising his creative aspect), one of his hands supports Parvati at her shoulders, and his lower right hand forms the abhayamudra, the gesture of fearlessness. Although both are in a frontal position, Parvati is slightly turned inwards towards her husband, her right hand raised and originally holding a water lily, the symbol of grace and beauty. Richly ornamented, the couple wears each a karanda mukuta, kirtimukha earrings (Shiva one circular), a necklace, a dhoti, bracelets and anklets, a circular nimbus behind their heads, and a jaynopavita (holy Brahmical cord) running diagonally across their bodies.

Continuous wars in South-India were leading to the exhaustion of the Chola empire, which disappeared in the beginning of the 13th century. For some time, Karnataka, Kaktiya, Andhra Pradesh, and the South-East coast were controlled by the Pandyas, whose political power extended from circa 1200 till the beginning of the 14th century. In 1215 the last Chola monarchs became vassals of the Pandyas. During the government of the dynamic ruler Jatavarman Sundar Pandya (1251-1268), the Pandya empire expanded over a large part of South India and Ceylon. Continuing during the government of Mahavarman Kulashekar (1268-1307), in the first part of the 14th century, the Pandya empire collapsed with the arrival of the Islam armies. Typical for the Pandya style is the continuation of the classic Chola canons, revealing stylistic characteristics like the fine pronounced haircurls on the shoulders, the shape of the makutas, and the style of the ornamentation. In contrast to the previous period this bronze exhibits a finish with fine chiselling; more common in the Pandya and Vijayanagar periods. Another typical stylistic element of the period are the ribbons on Shiva's upper legs and help to date this bronze to the late 13th or early 14th century.

This fine bronze representation of Shiva and Parvati is superbly modelled with smooth supple well balanced bodies, good proportions, and fine detailed features. The faces are radiantly alive and express extraordinary serenity and conjugal happiness. Striking is the elegant tribhanga posture of both gods, with a fine touch of one of Shiva's hands, holding his wife's shoulder, revealing their physical and emotional inseparability. Belonging to the most celebrated subjects, this temple bronze may be regarded as a fine example of the Chola tradition in South India, state Tamil Nadu, which is one of the highlights of bronze casting culture in art history.

Formerly in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. J. Meyer, Netherlands.

all text, images © Marcel Nies

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