As regards the art of bronze casting, the era of Chola rulers is considered as the golden period of the art of metal cast in India. Initially, Cholas ruled in South from the 2nd to the 3rd century A.D. But, in the beginning of the 4th century, that is around 300 A.D. itself, they were overthrown by Pallavas. The era of Pallava art began, however, during the reign of Mahendravarman, who ruled from 590 to 630 A.D. Mahendravarman was himself an accomplished poet and painter and had assumed the title 'Chitrakarappuli', which meant the tiger amongst artists. Exactly after hundred years, in 690 A.D. the Pallava dynasty had another great patron of art in Raja Simha Narasimha. He ruled for 38 years and promoted during this period great art activity in his state. He bestowed upon him the title 'Atyantakama', that is, the one who had endless desire. People called him oceans of art and master of music and dance.
In around 850 A.D., a descendant of earlier Cholas, named Vijayalaya, who was probably one of Pallava's feudatories, declared himself independent and re-established Chola rule. After some forty years, in 890, his descendant Aditya Chola killed the last Pallava ruler and occupied the entire territory, which was under Pallava rule. Besides Pallavas, Pandyas were other significant rulers in South. As a matter of fact, the two, Pallavas and Pandyas, occupied, in almost equal proportion, the entire Southern India. Aditya defeated Pandyas also and became the sovereign king of entire South. It is said, it was under him that the Nataraja image came in prominence and became known everywhere and is now the prestigious collection of most art lovers all over the world. Chola art, however, reached its apex during the reign of his son Gandaraditya Chola. Gandaraditya died quite young. His young widow, Sembiyan Mahadevi, turned into a great patron of art. She not only built a number of temples but numerous wondrous bronzes as well. This tradition continued to see yet greater glory under Rajaraja who developed his own distinct style. The bronzes of the period of Gandaraditya and those of Rajaraja comprise two schools of Chola art, one known as Sembiyan School of Chola art and the other the Rajaraja School. The third phase of Chola metal art was its deteriorating phase with lot of formal elements entering into it and its real emotional character disappearing. Besides Tanjore, Tiruvenkadu was another most significant centre of Chola art.
The 11th century Shiva statue of Tiruvenkadu is 106.5 cm. tall and the Devi statue 93 cm. Except that they are different in length, the present statues have been modeled on the same Chola lines, the same precision, plasticity and unique subtlety enshrining them. In this statue couple, Shiva's height is 38 cm. whereas that of Parvati it is 34 cm. This statue couple represents the great tradition of earlier art and follows a prior model, but despite it is not an imitation and the least a replica. The craftsman has utilised the tradition for its authenticity, but he has worked out his points of artistic excellence by himself and has created out of his imagination and artistic skill two great masterpieces, as great as the prior ones of the 11th century, except their antiquity.
Both statues are vibrant with inbuilt strength, vigour and power, but while the statue of Shiva has a commanding personality and posture, that of the Devi is bashful and yielding. Both statues are unique in their serene poise and subtle modeling, slender build and supple body. In characteristic Chola style the faces of both figures incline towards oval shape but under Pallava influence their lower part around the chin yet has an angular thrust. With well-defined and flowing contours, both figures distinguish themselves against vast void behind. Pedestals, though more or less a conventionalised thing, reflect features of Chola architecture, especially in their adherence to lotus motif, which has been elaborately used in the great Chola temple at Tanjore.
In this statue, Parvati has been modeled as Shivakami, a manifestation of Devi tremendously popular in Tanjore art. An early and exceptionally beautiful Shivakami statue, as tall as 108 cm., and probably the model of iconography of several subsequent Devi statues, in whatever manifestation, is yet in live worship at the great Tanjore temple. Shivakami is her lalita roop, which allures Shiva by its unique charm. In most postures, Devi has her hips tilted to right, but here, while accompanying the Vrishavahanamurti Shiva on her right, she has been cast with left tilt. Her fingers seem to move and elaborate a point in conversation. For giving her features extra sharpness, she has been cast with a relatively more angular face. In adhering to the principles of Indian aesthetics, the figure of the Devi has been cast with heavy buttocks, recessed belly and shapely rounded breasts. She wears below her waist a sari with fine elaborate pleats supported by an exquisitely adorned girdle and sash. She is wearing a typical Vaishnava crown and a small halo behind her head.
Shiva's figure has a benign look and there enshrines on his face a celestial glow and on his lips a gentle smile. In his three-fourth shut eyes there burst amour and absolute contentment. Though his right arm seems to lie on the back of his bull Nandi, yet the ease, which defines his posture, is unique. With his right leg place across his left, he imparts a feeling of absolute ease and casualness. The gesture of the left hand suggests that he is engaged in conversation elaborating something to Parvati. Earlobes in both images are taller than usual. Strangely, in his left ear Shiva is wearing a ring, whereas the right one is without any. The waistcloth is finely textured. As cloth it even loses its significance and acquires more the character of an exquisitely cast set of ornaments. The most attractive is the mode of dressing his hair. They are made to coil in peculiar ushnisha fashion, as jatabhara, that is, like a load-bearing basket.
In the tradition of faith, as prevalent in South India, Vrishabhavahanamurti Shiva is the giver of ultimate boon. It is believed, he emerges before his devotee with Devi on his left and Nandi on his right and his appearance alone fulfills all desired and redeems the devotee from the cycle of life and death.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.