The great festival bronzes of South India reached a period of efflorescence during the Chola dynasty (9th - 13th centuries), known as the Golden Age of Tamil art. As part of Brahmanical ritual practice in South India, portable bronzes were carried out of the temple and into the city streets for all to see and be seen by the gods and to engage in darshan, the mutually empowering exchange of gazes between humans and the divine. In preparation for darshan, the sculptures would be ritually bathed before being dressed and elaborately adorned, and then carried in procession. The Chinese pilgrim Yi Jing (I-tsing), who traveled in India from 671 to 695, recounts his eyewitness description of the practice: "...images, whether large or small, are to be brightened by rubbing them with fine ashes or brick powder, and pouring pure water over them, until they become perfectly clear and beautiful like a mirror," (J. Takakusu (trans.), I-tsing. A record of the Buddhist Religion as Practised in India and the Malay Archipelago AD 61-695, London, 1896, p. 150). Although their adornments would cover all but their faces, Chola bronzes were cast with attention to the greatest level of detail. Figural forms display an idealized naturalism simultaneously blissful and restrained, the bodies graced with gently rippling garments and finely rendered jewelry that express the beauty within.
Compare the present work with a twelfth century bronze figure of Ganesha from the Pan Asian Collection (P. Pal, The Sensuous Immortals, 1978, p.130-131, cat no.75).