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Masterpieces from the National Museum collection  

Introduction
Indian bronzes exhibit rare charm and exquisite beauty. They are valued for their elegance and craftsmanship. The oldest group of bronze sculptures from the Indian subcontinent date back to the 3rd millennium B.C.E.

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.

This bronze image of Nataraja is in the chatura-tandava pose. The three-eyed and four-armed Siva is dancing with his right foot placed on the demon of ignorance, Apasmara.

The rear right hand holds the damaru and the front right hand is in abhaya-mudra, with a serpent coiled around the forearm. .

The loops extending at the side were used as support when these bronze images were taken out on ceremonial processions, as mobile shrines with deities.

South Indian Bronzes
The Bronzes from south India embody one of the highest achievements of Indian art. Of all the bronzes from India, none is better known and admired than those from south India, especially the Pallava and Chola bronzes. Movable bronze icons were an intrinsic part of the Chola temples. Metal-smithing was zealously patronized during the later Chola, Vijayanagar and Nayaka periods as well. Scholars however believe that the bronzes of these periods were much conventionalized and the dynamic and rhythmic movement characteristics of early bronzes seem replaced by mathematical schematics. 

In this image, Bharat stands on the double lotus with Rama’s sandals on his head. This alludes to an episode of Ramayana, when Bharata meets Rama at Chitrakuta during his exile to implore him to return to Ayodhya.

Rama refuses to return to rule, choosing instead to continue his to honour of the promise his father Raja Dashratha had made to mother Kaikeyi. Bharata requested Rama for his padukas or wooden sandals, which he then placed on the throne of Ayodhya.

This four-armed image of Ganesha holds a battle axe, noose, the right tooth and modaka. The tip of the modaka is touched by the elephant trunk, suggesting the gesture of eating it. He wears karanda-mukuta, and a lower garment.

Subrahmanya, in the rear right hand holds Goddess Sakti between the first and second fingers, the front right hand is in kataka-mudra as though holding an arrow; the rear left hand which was probably carrying the vajra is lost, and the front left hand is in the gesture of holding a bow.

Saints and Poets
Bronze images of saints were conceived by craftsmen as ideal portraits. These images show the persona of the saint, usually recognizable by his specific attributes and by his physiognomy.  They were dearly admired for their absolute devotion, lucid poetry and selflessness. Owing to such qualities they were molded into bronze figures and worshipped in home-shrines.

This is the image of the Saiva saint Manikkavachakar, who was a respected 9th century minister instrumenal in the spread of Siva worship in South India.

Manikkavachar has a manuscript in one hand and with the other makes the gesture of perfection.

Nataraja
Nataraja, the lord of dance, represents the five essential acts of Siva- creation, preservation, destruction, veiling, and grace. The dance he performs is called the Ananda Tandava or the dance of bliss.  He is believed to have danced the world into extinction only to dance it back into existence as part of the cyclical concept of time in India. The Nataraja image signifies the cosmos and hence the omnipresence of Siva.

In his mountain home of Kailasa in the Himalayas, Siva is said to have invented 108 types of dances, commonly seen as the 108 karnas or poses of Indian classical dance. Siva dances in triumph of defeating demons or for the pleasure of his consort

Adorning the head of the lord is a jata -mukuta, embellished with the river goddess Ganga, a snake, jewels, flowers, a crescent moon and a human skull.

Strands of his hair spread horizontally on either side of his head representing his vigorous dance within a circular prabhamandala (aureole) framed with five tipped flames representing the oscillating universe.

Siva tramples the demon Apasmarapurusha (the image of ignorance) with his right leg.

Vishnu
In Indian philosphy, the Supreme Being is manifested in three cosmic roles namely Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution. These are usually represented by the trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Siva respectively. The 10  Avatars ( incarnations) of Vishnu  are  Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (man-lion), Vamana (dwarf), Parasurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki, the avatara that is yet to come. Vishnu’s prime consort is Lakshmi, also known as Sridevi, the Goddess of wealth and fortune, from whom he is rarely separated. His second consort is the Earth goddess or Bhudevi, whom he rescued from drowning in cosmic waters in the incarnation of the wild boar or Varaha. 

Krishna dancing on the hood of the snake, Kaliya, is known as Kaliyamardan Krishna. In this legend, Krishna vanquishes Kaliya who was troubling the residents of Vrindavan. His right hand is in abhaya- mudra and the left hand holds the snake's tail.

The serpent-king, Nagaraja is shown under the five hoods with his hands joined in anjali-mudra.

Devi
The Goddess or Devi image in India has evolved from fertility figures in the very early centuries to complex forms bearing special iconographic features. Devi figures are commonly seen in Indian Bronzes. The Devi-Mahatmaya, a Hindu religious text, articulates the idea that all goddess are manifestations of the ultimate Devi or Mahadevi. Manifestations of Devi began in the Gupta period (4th-5th Century CE). Devis appear as consorts of male Gods such as Parvati, as consort of Siva, Lakshmi appears with Vishnu, Saraswati, the goddess of music and learning becomes the consort of Brahma. 

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.

Śri -Devi is another name of Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth and Vishnu’s consort.

Bhu-Devi, or the earth-goddess Prithivi, is distinctly marked by the presence of kuchabandha, makara kundala. She originally must have been a part of a triad, flanking the image of Vishnu from the left along with his other consort, Sri-Devi, on the right.

Kerala Bronzes
The bronzes of the post-Chola period, that is Vijayanagar and Nayaka, as well as later periods of Kerala, are characterized by growing emphasis on minor details and elongated figures. The images are elaborately carved, but in perfect harmony. The emphasis on details is more obvious in the 17th century bronzes form Kerala.

The incarnation of Vishnu as a boar is a popular icon. The boar rescues the earth goddess (Prithvi) from the Great Flood, thus saving the world.

He holds a disc with flames and a conch in his upper hands, and his lower right hand is in abhaya mudra.

Rama and Sita are seated on a lotus which is mounted on a rectangular base. Rama's right hand is in vyakhyna-mudra, and Sita is holding the stalk of a lotus. On Rama's right, Lakshmana is standing holding a bow and Hanumana is seated in front with a manuscript in his hand.

Deccan Bronzes
Metal sculpture making also existed in the Deccan plateau, lying between the Narmada and the Tungabhadra rivers.  The craft of image casting in metal however dwindled almost to a ceasing point with the coming of Islamic dynasties in the 14th century CE. 

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.

North Indian Bronzes
The earliest bronzes, besides those from the Harappan period, are dated to the Gupta-Vakataka period (circa 5th century CE.). The Gupta idiom was carried forward by the Palas in eastern India, Maitrakas in the western India, Chedis in central India and Pratiharas in north India, while the Pallava and Cholas in southern India followed their stylistic paths towards the creation of magnificent bronze sculptures that are famous throughout the world.  The  images of this period, that are displayed in this gallery are characterized by a round face with broad forehead, rounded chin and eyebrows, half closed eyes, pointed nose with broad nostrils, full-bodied lips and serene expression on the face. They display perfect refinement of form and soft contours of body.

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.

Image depicts Vishnu riding his vehicle Garuda, with Lakshmi seated on his lap.

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.

Two female attendants are to his right and left respectively.

Phophnar Bronzes
Seven magnificent brass images of standing Buddha dated to 5th century C.E., were recovered by Haritriyambak Gujar, while he was ploughing his field in Phophnar Kala in Madhya Pradesh on 3rd of June, 1964.  Phophnar and Ramtek were within the realm of the Vakataka rulers (3rd-6th century CE) and the possibility of these coming from the same atelier of the metal smiths also cannot be ruled out. 

The Phophnar images are sensitively modeled and generally display an oval head, common in Gupta sculpture.

Their distinctive characteristics include an ubhayanisika sanghati (diaphanous robe covering the shoulders), rounded chin, averted lips, bow-shaped eyebrows, downcast eyes and hair with snail shell curls knotted at the top of the head to form the ushnisha (cranial protuberance).

All the images are in abhaya-mudra, (fear not gesture) with the right hand and the left fist raised up to the hip to hold the sanghati (monastic robes).

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.

This is the biggest and the most expressive image from the Phophnar hoard. The broad shoulders, the trivali or three folds on the neck, and the webbed fingers are marks of a great being.

Buddha’s silver-inlaid, downcast eyes symbolize chitta-ekagrata i.e. concentration of mind.

The parasol displays two maladharas who hold a floral wreath above the Buddha's head.

The inscription on the pedestal reads: “Deyadharmoyam – Nagachari Vira” i.e. 'Gift of Nagachari Vira.'

Buddhist Deities
Soon after the early phase of Buddhism, emerged a new form of Buddhism, which involved an expanding pantheon and elaborate rituals. In Nepal and Tibet, where exquisite metal images and paintings were produced, an entire set of new divinities were created and portrayed in both sculpture and painted scrolls. Ferocious deities were introduced in the role of protectors of Buddhism and its believers. 

Ferocious deities were introduced in the role of protectors of Buddhism and its believers.

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.

East Indian Bronzes
The eastern Indian bronzes, mostly belonging to the Pala period (8th -12th century CE) form a glorious phase in the history of Indian bronzes. Some exquisite bronzes from Nalanda in Bihar are characterized by a tall slender figure, rich ornamentation, gilding and bearing an oval-aureole rimmed with flame tips. The bronze art of Palas highlight the fine tradition among the craftsmen from the region for several centuries. The influence of this style is also visible in the bronzes from Nepal. 

The scene depicts the Lumbinivana, where Maya retired and delivered the child. On the right, Maya is seen holding the branch of the sala tree.

On her right is Indra identifiable by his conical cap, receiving the newborn child in his palms. Standing between them is the newly born baby, about to take the first seven steps.

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.

The Birth of the Buddha: The scene represents the emergence of the child from Maya's womb being reverentially received by Indra

Buddha in Vajrasana calling the Earth to witness the defeat of Mara.

Taming of the intoxicated elephant Nalagiri released by Devadatta at Rajagriha.

Mahaparinirvana at Kushinagara. The two mourners are Ananda and Aniruddha. The divya-dundubhi or celestial drum with a palm on either side symbolises the welcome accorded by the gods.

Nepal and Tibet Bronzes
The bronzes of Nepal and Tibet are exquisite in their treatment of subjects. The forms and styles of Nepalese sculpture were influenced by Indian art, particularly Gupta period. Nepali art in turn had a strong influence in shaping Tibetan style. Stylistically the two are very similar. A stylistic change came about after the 12th century, when ornamentation was highly exuberant. It was in the 16th century that the style underwent sophistication, but while the bronze tradition began fading after the 12th century in northern India, it remained popular in Nepal well into the 18th century. Although small in size, the Nepali bronzes are superior technologically, and express graceful delineations and movement.  

The composite image of Vasudeva and Lakshmi known also as Vaikuntha -Kamalaja, Lakshmi-Vasudeva, Lakshmi-Narayana and even Ardhalakshmihari is the androgynous form of Vishnu and Lakshmi. The right half is that of Vishnu and the left half is that of Lakshmi.

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.

Himalayan Bronzes
The bronze tradition from the Himalayan region, which primarily includes the valleys of Kashmir, Chamba, and Swat are unique and widespread. The earliest bronzes found from these areas belong to the post-Gupta period.   Majority of Kashmiri Bronzes, belong to the 9th to 13th century.  The Kashmiri artists excelled in gold and silver casting although they preferred to work in brass. The Kashmiri bronzes are pale gold in colour and gilding is rarely seen. The sculptures are full and rounded, and Gandhara or Greek influence can occasionally be seen. The Himachal bronzes are not full bodied but slim in comparison and bear a linear quality that defines the Pahari style of art. The subjects of the bronzes are mostly Buddhist and Brahmanical. 

This is panchamukhi lingam. The canopy of cobra hood is detachable (in three pieces). Four heads facing the cardinal points and one is placed at the top.

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.

This is a bronze image of the five-headed and ten-armed Devi ─ Svachchhanda Bhairavi. She is seated in lalitasana on the shoulders of a four-armed male figure, probably identified as Siva.

The four heads of the Devi face the four cardinal directions and the fifth is placed on top. In her right hands, she holds the sword, lotus, trident and skull, while in the left hands she holds a goad, noose, manuscript and purna-ghata.

On either side of her pedestal are Ganesha and Kartikeya, along with devotees.

Western Indian Bronzes
In Western India, the wealthy Jain community patronized metal-smiths for making icons of the Jina. It is evident from the discovery of several hoards of Jain images, including the famous Akota hoard discovered in 1951 near present day Vadodara, Gujarat. These bronzes aid in tracing the development of Jaina art and iconography from 6th -10th century CE in southern Rajasthan and Gujarat. 

This is called a panchatirthi because it depicts five icons together. Such objects were very popular in Jainism, depicting as many as twenty-three Tirthankaras in one panel.

The central figure here is identifiable as the Jaina Tirthankara Parsvanatha because of the snake hood over his head. The other images flanking him are other Jainas. They are unidentifiable, except for the srivatsa (diamond shaped mark) on their chests and silver enamelled eyes.

The row of nine figures on the pedestal is the nine planets personified (nava-grahas) and the central shrine includes a goddess (Vidyadevi).

Kunthunatha, the 17th Tirthankara, is seated cross-legged in dhyana-mudra (meditation posture) on a cushioned lion throne. On either side of the simhasana are the attendant figures, yaksha and yakshi, holding garlands. The arch has beaded moldings on the border and other floral decoration.

Credits: Exhibit

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

Credits: All media
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