Early Chola Temples

by S. R. Balasubrahmanyam | 1960 | 105,501 words

This volume of Chola Temples covers Parantaka I to Rajaraja I in the timeframe A.D. 907-985. The Cholas of Southern India left a remarkable stamp in the history of Indian architecture and sculpture. Besides that, the Chola dynasty was a successful ruling dynasty even conquering overseas regions....

Bronze, group 1: Late Pallava and Early Chola—Age of Vijayalaya (a.d. 785-871)

In the first group, I shall include those which could be assigned to the late Pallava period (Dantivarman to Kampavarman, a.d. 785 - 910) and the early Chola period covering the reign of Vijayalaya (a.d. 850-871). This will cover nearly a century (a.d. 785-871) upto the accession of Aditya I. The order in which the bronzes are dealt with should not be considered as being strictly chronological.

(i) Vishapaharanar, Kilappudanur

Madras Museum, (Pls.6 and 7 (a), c.s.)

The conical jathamakuta adorned with Karoti-ratna-bandam, the datura flower and the crescent, two kanthis, a cobra over the front right shoulder, the thick Yajnopa-vita with three strands, the main strand passing over the right forearm, a thick udara-bandha, and the mrga and the parasu in the rear hands, the cobra and the poison cup in the front hands, heavy keyuras and valayas, the katisutra with many bands and a central lion-clasp and side bows, the bhadrapitha, the kra with a rim enclosing the lotus petals, curly jathas falling over the nape - these are special features of this Vishapaharana bronze from Kilappudanur now preserved in the Madras Museum. Sivaramamurti calls it one of the masterpieces of South Indian metal sculptures and assigns it to the 8th - 9th century a.d.; John Irwin to the 9th-10th century; Srinivasan places it in the second half of the 9th century, and Barrett between a.d. 940 and 950.

(ii) Vishnu, Tiruchcherai (ECB, Pis. 47-48)

Barrett discusses the resemblance between this bronze and the Tiruchcherai Vishnu (ECB, p. 35 and Pis. 47 and 48). He states: “The two figures resemble each other closely in the treatment of necklaces, arm-bands and girdle and in the disposition of draperies. Both have the same type of perforated chakra behind the head”. The bhadra-pitha in the two cases is similar. We may assign both of them to the 9th century a.d.

(i) Vishnu, Madras Museum (SIB, PI. 12 (a) & colour PI. A).
(ii) Two Vishnu images of the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay.

Sivaramamurti calls the Madras Museum Vishnu “a truly fine image with all Pallava features”. It has the Srivatsa mark on the chest and he assigns it to the 8th century a.d. The two Vishnu bronzes of the Prince of Wales Museum are placed a little later, 8th - 9th century a.d.

Somaskanda, Madras Museum (SIB, Pis. 13 a & b).

The Somaskanda bronze from Tiruvalangadu (it is not Tiruvelangadu) is “the most beautiful of all surviving Somaskanda groups”. The Skanda is missing. The presence of Sula and Kapala in such a group is noteworthy. The bhadra-pitha is original; The early cup-like siraschakra with a central knob, the jewelled delicate crown of the goddess and her diaphanous drapery deserve mention. It has been assigned to the 9th century (C.S.), to the second half of the 9th century (P.R.S.) and to the period a.d. 930 to 950 or even later (by Barrett). I would assign it to the 9th century a.d.

Closely allied to this is the Sukhasana of Kilaiyur, now in the Tanjavur Art Gallery (SIB, PI. 37 a).


(i) Gautam Sarabhai collection (SIB, Pis. 8 a & b)
(ii) Tandantottam (Lalit Kala No. 10)

The first stands majestically with a pair of arms and is typically ‘Pallava’. Sivaramamurti says that the delicacy of the contours, the pose, the subtle smile, the simple jatha with sparse ornamentation “combine to make this splendid bronze unique among the metal images of the Pallava Period.”

Barrett (ECB, p. 34) would place it between a.d. 850 and 940, the period covering his phase 1.1 wonder how he claims similarity between this bronze and the stone sculpture of Brahma of Pullamangai.

The Tandantottam bronze is published by Naga-swamy. He identifies it as Yinadhara; but it may as well be identified as Tripurantaka, especially as there is a Tripurasundari in this group (BSI. Pis. 65 & 66 & pp. 116 - 120).


(i) Kuram
(ii) Nallur

The Kuram Nataraja is considered the earliest Pallava bronze on this theme. It was unearthed in a great centre of Pallava art. It is in urdhva-jhanu pose (not urdhva tandava pose as mentioned by Barrett in ECB, pp. 39 & 40). The jathamakuta has features as in Pallava sculptures. It has nagapasa instead of fire in the upper hand. Sivaramamurti assigns it to the 8th - 9th century and Srinivasan to about the third quarter of the 9th century. Barrett holds that “on the present evidence, I would not be prepared to date the Kuram Nataraja earlier than the second half of the 10th century a.d.”

Nallur Nataraja can be placed next to the Kuram Nataraja. It is in chatura pose and is eight-armed, a unique feature in the Tamil land. The ends of the girdle and tfie flower-ornament of the head are welded to the prabha which is adorned with three-pronged flames. The siraschakra has lotus petals without the rim. Curled jathas adorn both the shoulder and the nape. There is a pipal-shaped pendant over the right shoulder joint. The left leg is bent and the right leg is placed on a sitting, front-facing demon. Sivaramamurti calls it a Pallava image of the 9th century a.d. Barrett holds that it should be assigned to the period “about a.d.900 or a little later.” Srinivasan (BSI, Pis. 51 and 52 and pp.84 - 87) assigns it to about the beginning of the 10th century and considers Kandalavala’s date for this bronze, namely late 8th century or early 9th century, as ‘too early’.

Subrahmanyar (Tandantottam)

In Lalit Kala No. 10, Nagaswamy publishes an excellent bronze of Subrahmanyar from Tandantottam. The general features are in the manner of Pallava images. He is four-armed and holds and sakti in the rear hands. He wears karandamakuta and channavira. The siraschakra, the jathas falling over the nape, the padmapitha resting on the bhadra-pitha are all early features. The central loop, the bands of the girdle, the bows and tapering ends of the katisutra, the tassels of the upper garment falling outside close to the legs -- all proclaim an early date (PI. 147). This seems to be the successor of the stone images of Brahma-Sasta found in the Dharmaraja Ratha and the Trimurti cave at Mamallapuram, and the predecessor of the Subrahmanyar image (devakos) of the Agastyes-varam at Kilaiyur (ECA, I. Fig. 58) and the exquisite figure on this theme found at Tittagudi with an early karanda makuta (ECA I, PI. 114).

The Maitreya of the Madras Museum and the Simha-nanda from Nagapattinam, also of the Madras Museum will fall in this group (SIB, Pis 12 b & c and 14-c).

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