- Greeting G20 leaders in front of Bharat Mandapam will be a magnificent 27-foot Nataraja, the tallest statue of Lord Shiva’s dancing form in the world.
- The statue is an ashtadhatu (eight-metal alloy) piece of art, crafted by sculptors from Swamimalai in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. Weighing about 18 tonnes, it was hauled across the country on a 36-wheel trailer.
- The design draws inspiration from three revered Nataraja idols — the Thillai Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram, the Uma Maheswarar Temple in Konerirajapuram, and the Brihadeeswara (Big) Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Thanjavur.
The Cholas and Nataraja
- Inspired from were originally constructed by the Cholas, who at their peak around the 9th-11th centuries AD, ruled over much of peninsular India.
- Chola art and architecture in South India was a product of a prosperous, highly efficient empire during the period of its greatest territorial expansion.
- The Cholas were devout Shaivites, building elaborate Shiva temples across their territories. Among icons which form the most important part of Chola sculpture, Shaiva figures predominate, although very fine Vaishnava and Jain images are not unknown.
- The Nataraja image in its various forms holds the first place among Chola bronzes. While stone images of Nataraja are not uncommon, it is the bronze sculpture that has had the greatest cultural resonance through the years.
Shiva as the Lord of Dance
- Shiva evolved from the Vedic deity Rudra.
- Shiva is also the ‘Lord of Dance’ or Nataraja, who is said to have “invented no less than 108 different dances, some calm and gentle, others fierce, orgiastic and terrible”.
- Nataraja is encompassed by flaming aureole or halo, which was interpreted as “the circle of the world which he [Nataraja] both fills and oversteps”. The Lord’s long dreadlocks flare out due to the energy of his dance, and he strikes a rhythmic pose with his four arms.
- In his upper right hand He holds a damru (a hand drum), whose sounds “draw all creatures into his rhythmic motion”, and in his upper left arm, he holds agni (fire), which he can wield to destroy the universe. Beneath one of Nataraja’s feet lies crushed a dwarf-like figure, representing illusion, which leads mankind astray.
- Yet, amidst all the destructive symbolism, Nataraja also reassures, and shows Shiva as the Protector. With his front right hand, he makes the ‘abhayamudra’ (a gesture that allays fear), and with his raised feet, and with his front left arm he points to his raised feet, asking his devotees to seek refuge at his feet. Strikingly, Nataraja almost always wears a broad smile.
- He smiles at death and at life, at pain and at joy alike, or rather…his smile is both death and life, both joy and pain.
The lost wax method
- The process used has also been passed down from the time. The crafting process adopted was the traditional ‘lost-wax’ casting method, indigenous to the Chola era.
- In fact, the lost-wax method can be dated back to at least 6,000 years back — a copper amulet crafted using this method at a neolithic site in Mehrgarh, Balochistan (present day Pakistan) is dated to circa 4,000 BC. Notably, the Dancing Girl of Mohenjo Daro was also crafted using this technique.
- For millennia, the lost wax method was the foremost technique to produce elaborate metallic sculptures, and the Cholas took this skill to its zenith.
- In this method, first, a detailed wax model is made. This is then covered with a paste made of alluvial soil found on the banks of the Cauvery River that runs through the heart of what was Chola country. After this coating, applied multiple times, has dried, the figure is be exposed to high heat, causing the wax to burn away, leaving a hollow, intricately carved mould. This is ultimately filled by molten metal to produce the sculpture.