This excellent bronze-cast from Swamimalai represents the four-armed Lord Shiva in Purna Dhanur-asana, one of the most difficult steps or positions in Yoga. In Dhanur-asana the body twists a bow-like – arms, its string, and the rest of the body, the body of the bow. Yoga is the science of disciplining both, the mind and the body : the mind not merely channelizing its energies but also elevating spiritually transcending from its material fold to merge with infinity, and the body, to absolute physiological balance. Human body is usually forward inclining, that is, bending over the belly. This tendency of the body imbalances the spine, which by nature and initial formation is a straight bone or bone-formation. In yoga practicing Dhanur-asana is considered as the best physio-therapeutic method for removing or reducing spinal disorder or imbalance. It helps straighten spine. Apart, a difficult position it requires greater effort in fixing the mind and hence it is also an advanced stage of meditation and abounds in greater spirituality.
Dhanur-asana has two forms. When a practiser of Yoga lifts one’s lower and upper halves half way, that is, both halves rising above the ground but do not join each other, that is, the two halves bend like a bow, in the terminology of Yoga the position has been identified as Dhanur-asana. However, when the two halves are so much lifted that the legs – the end part of the lower half, reach the hands – the outreaching forepart of the other half, and the hands hold the legs, that is, the two ends – the hands and the legs, are mutually joined, something like the bow with its ends stringed with a cord, the yogic posture is known as Purna Dhanur-asana. The bronze-cast presents the most accomplished example of Purna Dhanur-asana. In the statue Lord Shiva has been represented as supporting his entire body on his abdomen while his lower and upper halves are lifted in such way that his legs reach his upper hands that hold them as holds the string the two ends of the bow.
As if fixed into it, Shiva’s figure stands on a tall pedestal with a square base, the middle part, a circular disc consisting of stylized lotuses, and upper disc, a thick plain mould. Unless carefully seen, the statue appears to be his bust representation; however, the statue’s other side reveals that the lower half of the figure is turned backwards and is almost folded along the back, the legs rising above the crown level where his upper hands hold them. His other two arms – the normal ones, are engaged in subsidiary acts : the right, in beating his damaru – double drum, and the left, raised upwards, accompanying the drum’s beats. Absolute absorption leading to absolute blissfulness and calm is the essence of the Purna Dhanur-asana, which so powerfully reflects on the Shiva’s face, in the gentle smile on his lips, in his half-shut eyes, and in the ecstasy bursting from his entire figure – the state of transcendence.
In characteristic idiom of Swamimalai bronzes, the most celebrated centre of bronze-casting known for a very high aesthetic level of its images, this statue of Lord Shiva is one of its best examples. Besides its exceptional aesthetic quality it is also rare in its theme – exclusive and highly innovative. Scriptures have celebrated him as Mahayogi as also as the ever first teacher of Yoga but he is not known to have ever classified the Yoga formally into various positions. This image represents him as doing a specific Yogic position – its manifestation in body as also its spiritual transformation that his face indexes. Besides the form of body wherein this position of Yoga manifests this image is rare also in revealing his mind. As regards its physical appearance the image has been cast with a glowing round face a bit angular for defining his chin, and cheeks, blooming rose-like. The nose is small but sharp and well defined, and the eyes, closed but large, a lotus bud-like, and eye-brows, perfectly trimmed and in perfect shape, and Shiva’s ‘Tri-netra’ – third eye, in their centre, set in delightful symmetry. Shiva’s tall crown has been styled like Jata-juta – coiffure, though it might also be otherwise – his Jata-juta braided like a splendid tall crown. The image has been adorned with routine ornaments and sacred thread – yajnopavit.