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Ramesh Gandhi

Bronzes of Tamil Nadu

A Brochure on Bronzes of Tamil Nadu, which I designed and photographed, at the invitation of the Managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Goverment Department of Handicrafts, Mr. C. Badrinath. Mr. Badrinath provided the text of the brochure, which included this verse by the Tamil saint Thirumular:

When Siva dances his cosmic dance of knowledgebliss,
The Vedas dance, the Agamas dance, music and dance dances.
The lustrous universe dances, all the living beings dance, the entire world dances,
The primordial sound in which began all life dances.

 

The text of the brochure:

In the movements of their mind, as in the vibrations of their daily life, and in the mystical flights of their spirit no less, the Indians looked upon the human body, as they looked upon the material world, with curiosity, with longing, with fear, with regret. At no time were they indifferent to it. The human body remained an abiding concern, with this recognition, however, that man's being is not limited to his physicality. In all the conflicting expressions of his humanity there runs a connecting truth: nothing that is natural and human need be despised, much less negated, but everything that is natural and human is to be transcended, for in self-transcendence is man fulfilled.

Indian art, like the systems of Indian philosophy, was rooted in that truth, and so were Indian music and dance. Together, they evolved as related expressions of man's humanity, symbolised by a tree inverted, whose leaves and branches and fruits are spread upon earth, and its roots in the cosmic space.

Indian sculpture, stone and bronze, like Indian painting, took for its material the symmetry of the human body, male and female, and the asymmetry of human emotions. Both these were then transposed on to gods and goddesses, just as the human body itself was transfigured in the architecture of the temples and in the seven basic notes of Indian music.

The art of making images in bronze reached its most brilliant expressions in the Chola period; and the Chola period, the tenth century in particular, was without question among the most creative periods of Indian art. The Chola bronzes express, more than the preceding Pallava rock-cut sculpture did, the fullness of the human body and emotions. The virility and strength of the male figure, and the sensuousness and grace of the female, acquired in them very nearly a life-like quality. One can see in them the expression of a vast range of human emotions: ecstasy, simple joy, tenderness, tranquillity, authority, and coyness, and because nothing in life was negated, even the aggressive, the violent and the grotesque. All are energy, movement, dance.

In the dance of Siva the Cosmic Man, all human emotions come together, dance, and are transformed. The Nataraja group of icons hold, therefore, a central place in Indian art.Like them, each Chola bronze had a transcending quality. The ultimate effect they generate is one of profound stillness. They depict energy, but they depict at the same time the primordial stillness, from which all energy flows, and into which it returns.

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The Tamilnadu Handicrafts Development Corporation was set up in 1973 by the Government of Tamilnadu.

Having fourteen production units of its own, the aim of the Corporation has been to develop the handicrafts of Tamilnadu, and, by providing market outlets for a wide variety of them, to support the numerous artisans who have, as their forefathers did, the making of handicrafts as their principal means both of livelihood and creativeness - in clay, stone, brass metal, wood, gold and silver, ivory, cane and bamboo, silk and cotton, and in bronze.

the bronze icons, such as depicted in this brochure, mostly replicas of the 10th-12th centuries Chola bronzes, are sculptured strictly on the lines prescribed in the Silpa-sastra texts, at the Corporation's units at Swamimalai, in Thanjavur district and also at Salem. These, like all other medieval Indian bronzes, carry no signature.

Named POOMPUHAR after a most ancient and fabulous Tamil coastal city, the Corporation has its emporia in almost all district town of Tamilnadu: in Cuddalore, Vellore, Tiruchirappalli, Pudukkottai, Thanjavur, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Salem, Erode, Coimbatore and Ootacamund.

It has an emporium also at Mahabalipuram, fifty-five kilometres from Madras, invariably visited for its famous Pallava rock-cut sculpture (c. 700 AD) and here even today one can see the sculptor at work, and hear the sound of his chisel and hammer, as it was heard in the centuries past. The major POOMPUHAR emporia are in Madras, Bangalore, New Delhi and Calcutta.

Design & Photographs: Ramesh Gandhi
Texts: Chaturvedi Badrinath

October 1986