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Chola: Sacred Bronzes of Southern India

Chola: Sacred Bronzes of Southern India

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Published by Vylet Eclair
Credits to Ms. Jing Turalba
Credits to Ms. Jing Turalba

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Vylet Eclair on Oct 10, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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This guide is given out free to teachers and studentswith an exhibition ticket and student or teacher IDatthe Education Desk.It is available to other visitors from the RAShopatacost of£3.95 (whilestocks last).
Detail of Cat. 13
Trident with ShivaasVrishabhavana (Rider of the Bull)
Cat. 14
[reverse view ]
Designed by Isambard Thomas, LondonPrinted by Burlington
Sackler Galleries11 November 2006 – 25 February 2007
Written by Adrian K. Locke
For the Education Department
© Royal Academy of Arts
An imperial dynasty that emerged in the ninth century, the Cholas went onto rule over much of southern India for the next four hundred years, duringwhich time they undertook an extensive programme of temple constructionthat transformed the landscape of the region. Rich endowments fundedtheritual activities of these temples and bronze representations of Hindugods, especially those associated with Shiva and Vishnu, were speciallycommissioned from master craftsmen for ritual worship in the new temples.These figures, many of which are still the objects of devotion in templesathousand years after their creation, constitute one of the greatest bodiesofcast-bronze sculpture in world art. It is these objects that are the focusofthis exhibition.
Hinduism, the religion of the Cholas, is a multifaceted religion that hascometo be specifically associated with India. Indeed the terms HinduandIndia both have origins in the Persian word for the river Indus.Hinduliterally means religion of the Indians.India can be divided into four regions: the mountain chains of thenorthincluding the Himalayas; the great southward-flowing river valleyssuchas those formed by the sacred Indus and Ganges rivers; thehighcentralplateauof the Deccan; and the coastal plains of the farsouth whichis wherethe Cholas rose to prominence. Marked by regional differences,thereis a very strong emotional bond that ties Hinduism to the land of India.Sanskrit, which became the
lingua franca
of Hinduism, is a language thatevolved through the presence of the Indo-Aryans who conquered northwestIndia in the second millennium BCand is the language of ancient scripts.Thisgives some idea of the complexity of Hindu, a religion which has evolvedfrom, and absorbed elements of, a wide range of influences over some fourmillennia. Sanskrit, an Indo-Aryan language, belongs to the Indo-Europeanfamily of languages that includes Persian, Greek, Latin and most Europeanlanguages. Sanskrit counts Gujarati, Hindi and Bengali as among its manylinguistic descendants.The languages of the south of India, however, are not descended fromSanskrit but form part of the independent Dravidian language group, whichboasts some 73 different languages. One of the most widely spoken andpurest of the Dravidian languages is Tamil, hence Tamil Nadu, a living classicallanguage over 2,000 years old. Tamil was the language of the Cholas andwas, therefore, used to compose the poetry of the saints and the foundingtexts which can be found decorating temples. Dravidian can also be usedtorefer to the region and people of South India.Hindu belief is based on oral traditions from a wide range of influencesthat were passed down over generations, although some of these were alsorecorded in Sanskrit manuscripts. There is thought to be great continuityinIndian religion that originates in the period referred to as the Vedic,pre-Hindu India of the first and second millennia BC. The
, whichmeanknowledge
are texts that date from this period and collectively thisgroup of books is considered to be the foundation on which later Hinduactivity is based. There are four
, namely
Rig Veda
Sama Veda
 Atharva Veda
.These are followed by two great Sanskrit epics of Hindu India calledthe
or remembered literature. The first of these is the
whichat more than 74,000 verses is one of the longest poems ever written.Perhaps the best known part of the
is the
Bhagavad Gita
which describes the events preceding the battle between the Pandyas andthe Kauravas, when the Pandya leader Arjuna turns to Krishna for spiritualadvice. The second Sanskrit epic isthe
which recounts the manyadventures of Rama, his wife Sita, his brother Lakshmana and the monkeygeneral Hanuman.Hinduism is primarily a devotional religion which means that the presenceof a god or gods is acknowledged by the individual. These gods are usuallyworshipped in structures which can range from very simple man-madebuildings to very elaborate stone-built temples. Sculpture, painting andritualobjects are used in the worship of these gods. Although the spacewhere the god is enshrined in a temple, referred to as the inner sanctum,isnot normally very large, the temple complex can be extensive. Part of thereason for these large temple complexes is the need to provide space forprocessions, essential components of temple activity and Hindu worship.Forthe devotees, participating in processions and annual pilgrimages isavery important aspect of their devotion, as it allows the individual theopportunity to supplicate or offer thanks to the god or gods. The abilitytoparticipate in these activities also allows the devotee to come into directcontact with the gods and allows the individual to make
(offeringssuchas incense, fruit, milk and ghee-fuelled lamps) and, more significantly,
, in which the participant communicates with the deity throughdirect eye contact. Hindus also believe in the immortality of the soul andinreincarnation. Two central concepts of Hinduism are
, acomplexterm meaning among many things duty, and
, which determines thequality of present and future lives.There are three main gods in Hinduism: Shiva, Vishnu and Devi reflectHinduism’s abilities for multiplicity, variety and unity. The majority of Hindusare either followers of Shiva or Vishnu. Temples, like the followers, devotedto either one of these two principal deities are referred to as ShaiviteorVaishnavite.
A short history of the Chola
Before the middle of the ninth century the Cholas were one of a numberofpowerful independent cultural groups jockeying for position in southernIndia, the region today known as the state of Tamil Nadu. Their rivals wereprincipally the Pallavas, the Pandyas, the Cheras and, further to the north,the Chalukyas. Together these groups vied with each other for controloverthe rich fertile flood plains of southern India centred around thesacredriverKaveri. Little is known about the early Cholas until the riseofVijayalaya(ruled ?848–871), whose exploits are known because theywererecorded instone inscriptions and copper-plate foundation documents.Taking advantage of a conflict between the Pallava and the Pandya,Vijayalaya captured the town of Tanjavur where he established a royal courtand founded the dynastic line of the Cholas. Tanjavur became the imperialChola capital which was later moved to Gangaikondacholapuram. Inaddition, Kanchipuram and Madurai both became established as importantregional centres. The Chola dynasty ruled for a further four hundred yearsduring which time they became extremely powerful politically, economicallyand, significantly, culturally. Although their fortunes fluctuated over thisperiod, at their height the Cholas ruled over much of southern India,
Cat. 1
Shiva as Nataraja(Lord of Dance)
Eleventh centuryBronze111.5
101.65 cm
The Cleveland Museum of Art,Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund,1930.331Photo © The Cleveland MuseumofArt, Purchase from the J.H. WadeFund 1930.331
The Chola territories insouthern India,
Cartography by Isambard ThomasMap relief © 1995 Digital Wisdom Inc.
    C    O     R    O     M    A     N     D     E     L     C    O    A     S     T
Pennar River 
  P a  l a  r   R  i  v e  r
P  i   R  i  v  r  
Kav eri River 
V    e   t   t   a   r    R   i    v   e   r   
0100200 miles100200300 kilometres0

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