The Visual & The Sacred


Chola Bronze: Parvati, India, Tamil Nadu; Chola period (880-1279), early 11th century

Copper alloy, H. 35 in. (88.9 cm)

The Chola’s ruled most of South India, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Indonesian Islands from the 9th to the 13th century. They celebrated art, poetry, drama and music. However they were best known for the bronzes that were made for a plethora of temples. During the 10th century because of a paradigm shift in religious beliefs, the deities were also supposed to take part in public activities like the humans, thus these sculptures were made to be carried outside. The large, beautiful, bronze structures were crafted with round lugs and holes at the bases so that they could be moved around. The sculptures came to life as they were carried around in processions, rituals and festivals. These bronzes were made with a lost wax technique.

This sculpture is one of Parvati, Shiva’s wife, and daughter of the Himalayan Mountains. She stands in a pose known as the triple bend; tribhangna, where the head and lower body are in one direction and the lower part in another. She seems to be holding something in one hand and has adopted a graceful posture. Almost like she is dancing. This idol, and almost all Chola’s are crafted in such a way that they are sensual but not erotic. She is beautiful created in a way to evoke a religious sentiment. She is standing on a lotus flower with her curved body. She has a thin waist and accentuated hips and breasts. She is bending her leg forward with her voluptuous hips. What I find interesting about this is that it is sensual yet somewhat pleasant.

This goddess represents an ideal beauty of the time she was created in, because goddess are made in the most exquisite way possible. The other thing I find interesting about this structure is how despite looking graceful and soft this idol looks powerful as well. She seems like a strong confident goddess, poised and graceful. There seems to be a stillness and movement to this idol, which is seen by the dance movement she is standing in. Even though most Chola bronzes seem to be overly sensual, this idol seems to yet have a certain innocence to it. The sensuality is almost seems subtle, and something you seem to see later. The first ting that hits you when you see this idol, is the graceful, dancer like structure and position.


Sacred Ritual: Anastenaria: Fire Walking Festival, The Burning Saints.

“You are in a sublime state of ecstasy as the glowing coals lay before you. But, will you walk across? When Saint Constantine calls you to become a firewalker – you answer – at least if you are one of the Anastenaria.”

The Patrons of St. Helen and St. Constantine are honoured and respected in the town of Agia, Eleni in Northern Greece and in Bulgaria. They are celebrated through the festival of Anastenaria, which is practised twice a year on the feast days of Saint Constantine (May 21) and Saint Athanasius (January 18). This two part ritual urges men to walk across  burning hot embers while the drums are beating with a icon in their hands.

This ritual circles around icons that worshippers believe have the power to purify, protect, cure and and heal. However many view the ritual as sacrilege. This festival ages back to the legend where some worshipers saved the icons from the burning church and remained unharmed. In the memory of this grave debt, the worshippers perform these rituals to pay back to this ancient icons. Every year generations and generations of Orthodox Christian worshippers cross hot fire paths to show their devout belief. They carry the icons in the fire, and many believe that why it is pagan. People also believe that’s worship belongs to the time when we worshipped the sun and the moon, and not saints.

When these ritual starts, at sunset a bonfire is lit. In the shrine folk songs are sung and played and people are dancing and praying. Then they go out and stand near the lit path. They carry the icons and start crossing the fire, first from north to south, then east to west, creating a cross. One by one everyone follows. The walk the burning hot embers once and once again until the fire is extinguished. They believe that their faith and belief protects them from the dangerous licking flames of the ferocious fire. It is said they enter a god like state where they feel no pain. The saints have taken over their body. This festival is a grand way of honouring and showing reverence to the gods that protected their people.



One comment

  1. riyaranka · February 18, 2015

    Chola Bronze: The contrasting ideas of the grace and poise of the idol along with it emitting a certain strength are interesting ideas which even relate to Parvati as a goddess today. A little input of how maybe a hint of her avatar of goddess Kali is probably underlying.
    Even in terms of erogenous zones of the female body, the breasts are left uncovered, and only the genital region is clothed. This could also probably give some insight into the sexual appeal of women at the time.


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