Chola Bronze, The Shiva Nataraja


The cholas came to power in the later 9th century and ruled most of South India,  Sri Lanka, the Maldive Islands, and even parts of Indonesian Island of Java from homeland near Thanjavur (Tanjore) on the Southeast coast till the 13th century. Chola rulers were active patrons , and during their reign ,poetry, drama, music and dance flourished. They also constructed enormous stone temple complexes decorated on the inside and outside with beautiful depictions of Hindu gods.

While the stone sculptures and the inner sanctum image empowering the temple remained immovable, changing religious concepts during the 10th century demanded that the deities take part in a variety of public roles similar to those of a human monarch. As a result, large bronze images were created to be carried outside the temple to participate in daily rituals, processions, and temple festivals. The round lugs and holes found on the bases of many of these sculptures are for th poles that were used to carry the heavy images. These statues are admired for the sensous depiction of the figure and the detailed treatment of their clothing and jewellery.

Chola period bronzes were created using the lost wax technique. Although bronze casting was a tradition for a long time in the South, but during the Chola period a much larger and a greater number of bronze statues were made further attesting to the importance of bronze sculptures during this period.

When these statues were worshiped, they’d be covered in silk cloths,garlands and jewels and wouldn’t appear as they do outside a religious context. Decorating the statues in these ways a tradition at least a thousand years old.

The god usually resides within a stone icon installed in the inner sanctuary of the temple. But in order to make himself accessible to everyone, he is brought outside the temple walls for processions. Special sculptures are created solely for use in processions, usually made of bronze. The god leaves the inner sanctuary and inhabits the bronze sculpture after intensive ritual purification.

The Bronze Hindu sculpture of thee Shiva Nataraja was one of these sacred sculptures made for processions. During the procession. Poles were inserted into the holes on the base of the statue so that the temple attendants could easily carry it through town.


The Shiva Nataraja would be so richly adorned with clothes, flowers and jewellery that the sculpture would be barely visible. Often only the eyes would be visible and being the most important feature. As long as the eyes would be visible through the heap of offerings, the darshan would be  experienced by all present. Till this date, darshans are carried out in a very similar way.

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