Art

Debate over two 11th century Chola icons

The two 11th century bronze icons, labelled as Royal Couple at the Sarabhai Foundation in Ahmedabad, are now subjects of debate in the State.

The icons are claimed to be the lost portrait sculptures of Rajaraja-I, the Chola emperor who built the Brihadiswarar temple at Thanjavur, and his queen, Lokamahadevi. As preparations are under way to celebrate the millennium year of the temple, a government delegation has approached the Gujarat government and the museum officials seeking their return.

While the existence of bronze portraits of Rajaraja I and Lokamahadevi at the temple has not been disputed, its identification with the icons at Ahmedabad is not free of contestations. There is also another claimant to this honour.

Inscriptions in the Thanjavur temple mention of four bronze portraits that were set up during Rajaraja's period. Two of them are identified as the emperor builder and his wife. The inscriptions also give details of the measurement of the icons.

At present, in the Briahadiswarar temple, there is a bronze icon identified as Rajaraja and is under worship. T.G. Aravamuthan of the Madras Museum examined the icon as early as 1925 and found that the height did not tally with those mentioned in the inscriptions. It was not the original icon, but a later work done to perpetuate memory of the founder of the temple was his conclusion.

The original bronze icons were lost centuries ago and were never located.

What appears to lend credence to the claim that the two icons at the Sarabhai Foundation are Rajaraja-I and his queen are their identification as the Chola King and Queen by Dr. R. Nagaswamy and the dates he has assigned to them. Mr. Nagaswamy who has studied these icons thinks that they are datable to the 11th century – the period coeval to the Thanjavur temple. He also points to the crown over the head and the channa–vira mark on the King's icon that indicates its warrior status. However, scholars such as Douglas Barrett have assigned a different date.

Mr. Barrett, writing in The British Museum Quarterly in 1968, also thinks that the two original portrait bronzes are no longer in the temple. However, he is reluctant to accept that the bronzes found in the Sarabhai collection are the original portrait sculptures.

In his estimate, based on the inscriptions, the height of the Rajaraja's icon must be about 24 inches, but the icon in the Sarbhai Foundation is about 29 inches tall. The height of the queen icon, which must be about 20 inches according to the inscriptions, also does not tally.

Mr. Barrett also disagrees with the date. In his opinion, the icons do not belong to the 11th century but to the early tenth century. He finds the reverse side of the Queen's icon at the Sarabhai Museum to be identical with the reverse side of the Sita icon found at Paruttiyur that is datable to the late tenth century. Other art historians such as P.R. Srinivasan and C. Sivaramamurti have also assigned different dates to the Sarabhai icons. They date them to the early 12th century.



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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 2:30:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/art/Debate-over-two-11th-century-Chola-icons/article12060904.ece

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