Masterpieces from the National Museum collection
Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Historically it was often alloyed with three other metals like zinc, silver and gold and called Panchaloha. Occasionally it was alloyed with eight metals and called Ashtadhatu. Usually Indian bronzes are cast solid but very often they can be hollow and finished with engravings, gilding or repousse.
The tradition of casting metal images started in north-west India. It later travelled through the heartland of the country, reached south India around 3rd-4th century C.E. and attained a high watermark under the reign of Pallavas, Cholas and other succeeding dynasties. Bronze sculptures have been discovered from all parts of India; from Kashmir in the north to Kerala in the South and from Gujarat in the west to Odisha in the east.
The four-armed and three-eyed figure of Ardhanarisvara, stands atop a circular lotus pedestal, upon a rectangular base. The arms bifurcate at the shoulders for the upper right hand to hold a parasu (axe) between the first and second fingers in tripitaka-mudra (now damaged); the upper left hand holds the stalk of a lotus bud. The lower right hand is in the attitude of rest (as if on Nandi), the lower left in katyavalambita pose. The hair is braided to the left and arranged in jata-mukuta fashion to the right, with locks falling on the back. A siras-chakra is behind the head.
Kali can be identified by her flaming hair which stands erect as flames of a fire. On the left, the head bears a crescent moon (ardha-chandra); in the centre a skull flanked by two cobras; and on the right a coiled cobra. There is also a serpent draped over each breast. On her rear hands, she holds a noose and a goad (ankusha), her front hands are in abhaya and varada mudra.
Uma-Maheshvara panels are usually shown with Uma seated on the lap of Siva. Seated at ease on a bull atop a large rectangular pedestal, Siva holds Uma by her waist. The two back arms of Siva hold a trident and a snake, while the forearm holds a fruit. The couple is flanked on either side by Ganesha and Kartikeya.
Surya, a prominent Vedic deity symbolizing the sun, can be seen holding lotuses in both hands. He is standing in samapada on an inverted lotus placed on a tri-ratha pitha. His features, as commonly seen in bronzes of this period and region, are totally defaced ─ all that is visible is the silver inlay in the eyes. This is a rare image which shows a horse-riding figure facing the Sun God and tells us of a popular legend that Aruna, the charioteer of Surya, never shows his back to Surya but drives the chariot while facing him. Around him are his two attendants, the bearded Pingala with his pen and inkpot on his right and Dandi on his left holding a spear.
Vishnu is seated in ardhaparyankasana on Garuda, with his right leg resting on a lotus. Lakshmi is seated in sukhasana in his lap, her right leg resting on Garuda's palm. He can be seen holding padma (lotus), gada (mace), sankha (conch) and chakra (wheel). Lakshmi is holding a lotus stalk in her right hand.
Pedestals of four images bear inscriptions and on the basis of their stylistic and paleographic considerations; the script is comparable to a time contemporaneous to the Vakatakas in 5th century C.E. The Vakatakas were contemporaries of the Guptas and also had matrimonial relations with them, which is the express reason for the Gupta mannerisms noticeable in these predominantly brass images.
Tara is the goddess who epitomizes the amalgamation of the older mother-goddess cult and Buddhism. Her concept evolved in India and by the Gupta period, she had become the most important goddess in Buddhism. Tara is understood primarily as a savior and is, therefore, the female counterpart of the Boddhisattva Avalokitesvara, with whom she is often portrayed.
This is one of the four images datable to the reign of the Pala ruler, Devapala (808 – 843 CE), this figure is of immense importance. This Manjusri image shows him as a corpulent being, seated on a lotus platform with the right leg resting on another lotus. He holds a fruit in his right hand and a manuscript signifying knowledge, in his left.
This is perhaps the most elaborately presented metal votive stupa known from India so far. The square base has four steps (sopana) in four cardinal directions, leading to pradakshina or a circumambulation path, around enshrined panels in high relief depicting eight episodes from the Buddha's life. The panels surround the terraces on which a lotus supports the dome. Parasol rings tapering upwards in an inverted bell form can be seen. The eight rings of parasol could also represent the ashtanga-marga or the eight-fold path advocated by the Buddha or even the eight vimokha or states of emancipation. There are four events presented in the four cardinal directions.
Shadakshari Lokeshvara is also one of the thirty-one forms of Avalokitesvara according to the Sadhanamala. He is personified by the six syllable mantra of the Buddhists, “Om mani padme hum”. The four-armed Shadakshari Lokesvara is seated in padmasana on the lotus pedestal. Lower pair of his arms is in anjali mudra against the chest, while the upper right hand is in the attitude of holding the rosary which is not present; the upper left is holding the lotus (utpala). He is adorned with the jeweled crown decorated with five crests.
Gomedha and Ambika, parents of Jina are seated on a lotus base mounted on a rectangular pedestal with devotees in front and a spiral umbrella at the top. Tirthankara is also seated but in a dhyana-mudra in a niche below the umbrella. The right arm of Gomedha is stretched and his palm rests on the knee. A child is seated on his left lap. Ambika is in a similar pose, with a child sitting on her left lap.
Script and Curation: Tejpal Singh, Dr. J.E. Dawson, and Dr. S V Gorashkar.
Collection Incharge - Tejpal Singh
Exhibit Compilation - Ruchira Verma and Vasundhra Sangwan
Gallery Design - Matrika Design Collaboration
Design Implementation - C.P.W.D., Mr. K.K.S Deori, Kuldeep Pokhriyal and Priya.
Photography - Hariom Maurya, & Yogesh Pal
Photo Editing - Hariom Maurya
The Bronze Collection, National Museum, India