This statue, a bronze-cast from Swamimalai in Tamil Nadu, one of the most celebrated seats of the ancient art of bronze-casting in India, represents the four-armed Shiva, one of the Gods-Trio in Indian theological system, performing ‘yoga’, a kind of discipline requiring the body to remain fixed into a particular static position regulating physique and controlling breathing and thereby commanding the mind to transcend from material plane and merge with infinity. Different from a usual position of the image, seated or standing, the figure of Lord Shiva has been conceived as standing on its knees, the lower legs being inverted – the right foot turned to left, and left to right, almost at ninety degree, and feet turned upwards. Besides, from his face reflects that he is engaged in controlling breath – a position defined in Yogic terminology as ‘pranayama’, most difficult and rigorous of all Yogic exercises. As appears to be natural and appropriate to the totality of the body’s position, there reflects a bit of strain on the face of the image, pressure on the neck, sternness in the posture of hands and the figure appears to be effortfully stretched.
In Indian scriptures Lord Shiva is the only divinity who earns the title of 'Mahayogi' by practicing rigorous penance and 'Yoga'. As suggests evidence recovered in excavations of Indus sites Mahayogi Shiva is one of his earliest three manifestations one of the other two being his aniconic manifestation as ‘ling’, and the other, his iconic manifestation as Pashupati. In terracotta seals recovered in such excavations depict him seated as a cross-legged 'yogi' engaged in penance. Though the primary emphasis of the Vedas and Vedic Samhitas is on his wrathful ferocious aspect, in subsequent literature of the pantheon, especially in various legends, Lord Shiva re-emerges in his Mahayogi aspect. As the tradition has it, once on Brahma’s prayer he undertook the work of creation along him but endowed with immense energy created all of his own kind, ferocious and violent. This struck Brahma with awe. He prayed Shiva to stop. On Brahma’s advice he resorted to yogic-penance and thereby his energies were channelized into creative process. Lord Shiva is said to have performed ‘Pashupat-yoga’ which required complete breath-control, fixing the body into one static posture, and the mind, into infinity. This bronze image seems to represent him as engaged in ‘Pashupat-yoga’. Not an isolated legend the Puranic literature is replete with similar legends portraying Shiva as resorting to yoga and penance.
The statue has been raised over a three-tiered pedestal, the two bottom tiers – a square base and a circular moulding over it, being composed of stylized lotus motifs, and a plain circular moulding comprising its top. In its quality – iconography, figural proportions and overall treatment, plasticity, fluidity, in defining contours and manipulating geometric principles, especially in creating anatomy of the figure, and the total aesthetics and spiritual quality, the image is simply unparalleled. The figure has been modeled with a round face : well-fed cheeks, half-shut down-cast eyes indicating deep absorption, sharp nose, a bit open cute lips and small symbolic ‘tri-netra’. He is putting on a tall Vaishnava crown, a special feature of divine imagery in South Indian tradition, though here it has been styled like ‘jata-juta’ over which he is putting on his favourite crescent. Of his four arms the normal ones are held over belly with fingers interknitted revealing determination and body-balance. The upper right hand holds his favourite attribute ‘damaru’ – double drum, and the left, the flame of fire. Except the position of the legs : left turned to right, and right, to left, the entire figure, from the knees onwards, is vertically stretched. One of the best ones from a Swamimalai workshop in its overall quality, finish and sophistication the statue is reminiscent of early Chola bronzes of South.
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