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The art and science of Chola bronzes
- Sharada Srinivasan, Bangalore

November 6, 2006

Sharada Srinivasan, Fellow of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, addresses Chola bronzes of Shiva, in particular links between the imagery of the god depicted as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, and astronomical ideas.

Remarkably, in an era preceding Leonardo da Vinci, the Nataraja bronze achieved a poetic synthesis of art and science, perhaps conceived as an iconometric star chart for Orion, as argued here from archaeometallurgical and astro-archaeological evidence. A collaborative study between Srinivasan and Nirupama Raghavan points to an exciting iconometric link between Nataraja and the constellation a star chart for Orion dated 800 was mapped on to the Nataraja image, identified from archaeometallurgical and lead isotope study as being of Pallava vintage. A 'stellar' inspiration for the Nataraja icon, at least at its inception, may be inferred from the astonishingly good fit given by this superposition.

The dualistic nature of Shiva worship and the ideas linking Nataraja to the consciousness and the sky are also considered, and details of metal analysis of selected Chola bronzes are discussed.

The focus is on exhibitions in London and Bonn showcasing two great civilizations which were rooted in Brahmanical beliefs. Today the fact that the Chola and the Khmer were in fact contemporaneous kingdoms is largely unnoticed as subsequent history has dealt very different cards to their cultural legacies. Consequently, the understanding and study of their splendid monuments and magnificent sculptures are vastly different. The articles in this issue offer a rare opportunity to compare these approaches and develop a wider viewpoint of South and Southeast Asia in the mediaeval period. As demonstrated by Vidya Dehejia and John Guy, many Chola temples continue as places of worship until this day, and centuries-old images have a dual identity as both deity and artefact. Sharada Srinivasan illustrates how iconic images like the Nataraja have and will continue to inspire artists, scientists and musicians.

The full paper is in Orientations, (The Magazine for collectors and connoisseurs of Asian Art ) Vol. 37, No. 8, Nov/Dec 2006, linked to the exhibition of Chola bronzes at Royal Academy of Arts, London.

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