India Pride Project (IPP) has been making a case for restitution of India’s lost artefacts that have been stolen and smuggled abroad and of course auctioned off. We have already seen the kinds of hindrances that are keeping away these treasures from their homeland. We have also been studying the stories of stolen artefacts detailed in the blog http://poetryinstone.in/ which is a forerunner of IPP. This blog has played a major role in identifying the stolen artefacts, comparing them with the substituted duplicates and making a case for restitution of the original idols to the temples they rightly belong to.
Chola bronzes were highly prized because they were the zenith of Chola creations. Chola craftsmen were masters in the art of bronze sculpting and their art has not been surpassed by anyone to this day. It is no wonder then that these bronzes fetch a very high price in the international art market and are prime targets for smuggling. The first of the cases we studied was that of Sivapuram Somaskanda which lies in the Norton Simon Museum to this day. In line with that today we shall learn about another much valued Chola bronze described by the auction house as ‘A large and important bronze figure of Parvati; SOUTH INDIA, CHOLA PERIOD, CIRCA 1100’. Before we look into the details of this bronze idol we need to learn a little about the Kailasanatha Temple of Kanchipuram.
Kailasanatha Temple, Kanchipuram
This temple dedicated to Lord Shiva has the distinction of being the oldest monument in the city of Kanchipuram. Commissioned by the Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman II, also known as Rajasimha, the temple was constructed sometime between 685 and 705 AD. This temple is also special because it was the first structural temple built in South India as against temples constructed of wood or carved into rock faces and boulders. Thus, this temple became a model for other temples in the South.
The question is ‘what has a Pallava temple got to do with Chola bronzes?’ Well it would be interesting to note that the Chola emperor Rajaraja Chola I paid a visit to the city and this temple. It was the Kailasanatha temple that served as a model for his famous Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur.
Here is an interesting fact about the bronze figure of Parvati (from the blog http://poetryinstone.in/) “Chola bronzes of this height /size and beauty are comparable to the great bronzes just post the Sembian Madevi era and closer to Sri Raja Raja and Rajendra period”. If we put two and two together then it could well turn out the bronze statue of Gauri was a gift from Rajaraja Chola during his visit to Kanchipuram. It was not unknown for such gifts to be made by kings and emperors as a show of gratitude.
A 1944 article titled ‘Gauri, a Southern bronze’ by K.B. Iyer makes a reference to a bronze statue of Devi Parvati and further states that the said idol was then in the possession of a well-known dancer Ramgopal. The article clearly states that the piece is ‘Gauri from Kailasanatha temple, Kanchipuram’.
Giving Gauri a home
The blog made a comparative study of the bronzes (one mentioned in the 1944 article and the one with the museum) to try and identify if both were indeed the same. Although the pictures look similar the blog hits a roadblock with respect to the dimensions mentioned. The idol mentioned by the auction house measure 331/8 inches however the article measures it at 26 inches in height excluding the pedestal. If we overlook this small detail, the stylistic identifications match perfectly. For further evidences one would need to go through Chola inscriptions and find out if Rajaraja made any such donation or gift to the Kailasanatha Temple.
While there is no doubt that this is indeed the bronze from the Kailasanatha Temple from the stylistic comparison, details of how the idol passed into the hands of the dancer Ramgopal (with whom it was at least till the year 1944), when and how did it go out of the country, how it was sold in Geneva etc are still shrouded in mystery. However, the blog does concede that it wouldn’t have been difficult to find out these details. In an attempt to provide further proof regarding the statue’s origins the blog studies and presents a 1915 publication titled ‘South Indian Bronzes’ by Sri O.C. Ganguly. There are clear references, along with photographic evidences, to the Kailasanatha Gauri. Then why did they use the obscure title of ‘an important bronze figure of Parvati’? Is this a deliberate attempt by the museum to erase her past?
While the blog does concede that the evidences provided by them may not be conclusive or sufficient to seek the restitution of the bronze statue of Gauri, it does provide her an identity and of course a home.
Links for further reading:-