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A BRONZE FIGURE OF CHANDIKESHVARA
A BRONZE FIGURE OF CHANDIKESHVARA
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PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE NEW YORK CITY COLLECTION
A BRONZE FIGURE OF CHANDIKESHVARA

SOUTH INDIA, TAMIL NADU, CHOLA PERIOD, 12TH CENTURY

Details
A BRONZE FIGURE OF CHANDIKESHVARA
SOUTH INDIA, TAMIL NADU, CHOLA PERIOD, 12TH CENTURY
22 ¼ in. (56.5 cm.) high
Provenance
William H. Wolff, Inc., New York
Sotheby’s New York, 27 March 1991, lot 51

Lot Essay

This elegantly cast figure depicts the South Indian saint Chandesha, also known as Chandikeshvara. Images of the sixty-three nayanar or Shaivite saints of South India, including Chandikeshvara, are idealized portraits of devotees transformed by bhakti, the state of loving devotion. To these nayanar are attributed more than seven hundred hymns that form the sacred liturgical body recited in Tamil temples, which extol the feats of Shiva and his irresistible beauty.

In the current work, the poetic ecstasy of Chandikeshvara is manifested into an evocative, sensuous, and idealized form. Revered as the foremost devotee of Shiva, the young cowherd Chandesha worshipped a simple mud lingam, using milk from the cows he tended for the ritual daily lustration. When his father chastised him for wasting milk, Chandesha was so absorbed in meditation that he did not hear his father’s admonition. In a fury, his father kicked the lingam and so Chandesha lashed out with his staff, which miraculously turned into Shiva's sacred battleaxe. Pleased by the intensity of Chandesha's devotion, Shiva and Uma blessed him with a divine garland, hence the name Chandikeshvara. During the Chola period, all Shiva temples had a separate shrine dedicated to Chandikeshvara, usually on the northern side near the sanctum, as the guardian and supervisor of Shaivite temples. To this day, his presence is evoked in Shaivita temple complexes by a clapping of hands by devotees.

Graceful and richly patinated, Chandikeshvara stands in contrapposto on a foliate pedestal, the arms raised together in anjalimudra with the parashu or battleaxe of Shiva resting in the crook of the left elbow. His face is beatific, the aquiline nose powerful above a rosebud mouth. The broad shoulders and fleshy physique are in marked contrast to the lithe modeling prevalent in early Chola sculpture. The brief, diaphanous dhoti or loincloth is incised with a scrolling vine motif at front and back, secured with a sash affixed around the waist with a girdle clasp and hung in a half-loop across the upper thighs. The tall jatamukuta echoes the plaited jatas of Shiva. Chandikeshvara is ornamented with large round earrings, ear tassels, wide necklaces, armlets on the upper arm, beaded armlets at the elbows and stacked bracelets, as well as stacked anklets on the right leg. He wears the yajnopavitam or sacred thread across the left shoulder.

The coiled jatamukuta and splay of plaits at the back of the head is favorably comparable with another slightly earlier bronze figure of Chandikeshvara in the British Museum (acc. no. 1988.0425.1), see V. Dehejia, The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India, New York, 2003, pp. 162-3, cat. no. 33. Further iconographical details, including the unadorned parashu, the large flat-petaled shirashchakra or halo at the back of the head, and the tightly coiled jatas arrayed a graceful semi-circle across the upper back and which cascade down the shoulders further support a twelfth century dating. For further reading, see C. Sivaramamurti, South Indian Bronzes, New Delhi, 1963, p. 40.

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