The Chola Dynasty marks the ninth to the thirteenth century in Indian history. During the centuries prior, the Cholas
were one of the three powerful ruling families in South India. It is unknown
precisely when the Chola family began rising in power and influence. However, by
the middle of the ninth century, the Chola family had asserted and secured its
position as the ruling family, dominating the region. From then on, the Cholas
built a vast empire that would eventually last for four centuries.
The Cholas were commanding warriors,
wielding mighty military and political power. At the height of their power,
during the eleventh century, the Chola empire ruled the greater part of South
India, all the way to Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands. Their diplomatic
influence stretched all the way to present-day Myanmar, Malaysia, and China.
However, in addition to their military and political influence, they also had a
vast and significant influence on culture and the arts.
South Indian Bronzes
The domination of the Cholas was not left
on the battlefield. The family members were leading patrons of the arts and as
such, they also dominated the region culturally. If there’s one thing about the
culture that is clearly evident to this day, it is that the people of the Chola
dynasty were highly educated, literate, and also artistic. While amassing great
wealth through their conquests and as the Chola empire expanded, the family
chose to use this wealth in building enduring stone temples and impeccable
During the tenth century, Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi
began the building of large stone temples. At the time of her reign, highly
crafted pieces of bronze works were also widely produced and were usually
formed in the image of Hindu gods and goddesses. Being devout Hindus, the
Cholas commissioned these exquisite and intricate bronze sculptures of gods
and goddesses to be cast and then placed in numerous Hindu temples.
60" Super Large Standing Mahishasura-Mardini (Devi Durga) | Handmade | Madhuchista Vidhana (Lost-Wax) | Panchaloha Bronze from Swamimalai
Bronze sculptures during the Chola period
were crafted using what is referred to artistically as Cire Perdue or in Sanskrit, Madhu
Uchchishtta Vidhana. This is also known as lost-wax casting. This technique
involves the combination of beeswax, a kind of camphor called kungilium, and a little oil then
kneading the mixed substance well. Once kneaded, the mixture is then used to
precisely sculpt the specific figure and all its intricate features. This wax
model is subsequently coated with clay. The clay-covered model is then dried
and placed in an oven, where the wax either melts out of it or evaporates.
The next step in creating Chola bronze
sculptures is melting Pancha Loham, which
is a metal alloy of bronze. The bronze alloy is poured into the clay mould, which
is now empty of the wax. Once the bronze completely fills the mould, including
all the small crevices and intricate designs, it is left to settle, harden, and
then cool. Once the process is complete, the clay mould is then broken off,
leaving only the bronze sculpture. The last steps involve the application of
finer details, the cleaning, and the removal of any markings or blemishes from
the sculpture. Lastly, the bronze sculpture is then smoothened and
then polished before it is displayed and likely placed inside a temple. Due to
this elaborate process, each bronze sculpture is entirely unique. No bronze
sculpture from the Chola period can be exactly replicated, making it truly one
of a kind and priceless.
48" Large Nataraja | Handmade | Madhuchista Vidhana (Lost-Wax) | Panchaloha Bronze from Swamimalai
Many of these sculptures that were created
were not only large but also featured holes at the bottom. This allowed for
wooden poles to be fitted to them in order for the sculptures to be lifted and
carried outside of the temples for special occasions and religious festivals.
The public would then line a processional route as the heavily adorned
sculpture of the deity was carried along.
One of the most famous bronze sculptures
from that time is that of Nataraja or Adavallar, which represents Shiva as the
Lord of the cosmic dance of creation and destruction. As a result of this, the
bronze image of Shiva as the Lord of the dance became the most iconic religious
image and even served as a political symbol. Another result is that with the
proliferation of bronze sculptures during that time, the Chola dynasty is, to
this day, renowned for bronze works.
Chola Marvels on Historical Perspectives
Aside from one of a kind bronze sculptures,
during the Chola Dynasty, King Rajaraja Chola, Queen Sambiyan Mahadevi’s
grandson, also constructed the great Bhrihadishvara temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram,
which is also known as the Tanjore temple. It is dedicated to Shiva and was the
largest Hindu temple of that time. Until today, modern engineers are amazed by
its construction and architecture.
During the Chola dynasty, monumental
temples and powerful pieces of art that were largely influenced or inspired by
Hinduism were created throughout the empire. The Bhrihadishvara temple, along
with the Tiruvalisvaram temple, is among the most brilliant testaments to the
magnificence of Chola architecture. Not only were they large in scale, but they
were built using hard rock and granite while featuring carvings and other
architectural designs. These magnificent temples seem to defy the engineering
and construction capabilities of that time in history. In creating massive
stone temples, the architects that were commissioned during the Chola dynasty
were heavily influenced by the style of the Pallava dynasty that preceded it.
Similarly, the Chola artists and artisans were inspired by the contemporary art
of that time. They took this inspiration and used it as a starting point to
further elevate Chola art and architecture.
World Heritage Series- The Great Chola Temples
In addition to religious temples, Chola
architecture also includes hospitals, public utility buildings, and palaces.
Many of these buildings were built throughout the Chola dynasty. An example of
one of these is the golden palace built by Prince Aditya Karikala for his
father King Sundara Chola. Unfortunately, many of the buildings established
during the Chola rule were built using timber and bricks. As such, they have
sadly not stood the test of time.
It is evident that the ruling Chola family
greatly valued their religious life, along with their political and military
ambitions, and utilized the arts to further establish their encompassing power
and influence. Throughout the Chola dynasty, there was a constant improvement,
advancement and refinement of art and architecture. While the Cholas ruled for
a handful of centuries, their artistic influence and cultural contribution have stood
the test of time and continue to endure to this day.
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