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Figure of Shiva Nataraja
Bronze; cire perdue (lost wax) cast
Centimetres(?): 101.6 (height), 27.0 (depth), 87.6 (width)
1100 BC-120 AD
Medieval; Chola; 12th century AD
Area of Origin: Unknown site; India; South Asia

Description: The powerful image of the Hindu god Shiva depicts him as the Lord of Dance, or Nataraja. With one leg raised, his multiple arms in poses, and surrounded by a circle of fire, this sculpture depicts Shiva performing his cosmic dance of bliss. As the Lord (Raja) of the Dance (Nata), Shiva brings both destruction and creation. According to one myth, Shiva decided to punish some evil sages for their corrupt and inadequate devotion. Attempting to resist him, they threw weapons at him including a tiger, snakes, fire, and the demon of ignorance. The powerful Shiva subdued all of these, as is shown in the sculpture: Shiva stands on top of the demon of ignorance, captures fire in his hand, and subdues the snakes into ornaments. With a two-sided drum he beats the rhythm of his dance, representing the eternal rhythm of time. The ring of fire surrounding him symbolizes purification through destruction. Shiva’s other hands convey salvation: his lower right hand makes the gesture of reassurance, while with the other he makes the gesture of deliverance.

In Hinduism, the processes of destruction and creation are understood as interdependent and continuous. Shiva Nataraja’s dance is understood as a metaphor for the Hindu spiritual journey, the goal of which is release from the cycle of rebirth. Such bronze sculptures were predominantly produced from the Chola period onwards, a dynasty of kings that ruled over much of southern India from the ninth to the twelfth centuries AD. They were housed in temples and regularly brought out and decorated for processions. The fine detail of the sculpture demonstrates it was produced by the “lost wax” technique, perfected by the Cholas. The original wax form of the god was embedded in clay then slowly heated allowing the melted wax to flow out of the mould. The hollow mould of the figure was then cast in bronze, producing heavy solid bronzes of elaborate detail like this one.

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