This amazing bronze sculpture of the Hindu god Shiva, depicted as “Lord of the Dance”–not to be confused with Michael Flatley–was created possibly more than 1000 years ago by the Chola, a people who inhabited southern India and whose brief dynasty was ascendant from 850 to 1250 CE. The Chola rulers were prolific builders, creating temples, palaces and magnificent works of devotional art such as this statue. Parantaka I, who ruled southern India from 907 to 955, was typical of the Chola dynasty, a powerful martial leader but also desirous of improving his realm through the building of canals, promulgation of fair laws and the dedication of his people to spiritual life.
The cosmology of the medieval Hindus is almost mind-boggling, and this deity, Shiva, is at the heart of it. Here he is doing the cosmic dance of the universe, which is part of the endless cycle of rebirth and destruction. Interestingly, Shiva is tagged in Hindu mythology as being both the creator and the destroyer. The world is sometimes said to be Shiva’s dream. The Hindus therefore tap into a dimension of infinite thought and the concept of higher levels of being that did not become widespread in Western thought until philosophical and scientific advances of the late 19th and particularly 20th century. The presumably infinite nature of God is more assumed than discussed in Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, but it’s a key part of the Hindu worldview, and one that meshes quite nicely with science, mathematics and astronomy–not coincidentally, three subjects at which the Indian people have excelled for thousands of years.
This bronze is about 30 inches high and has a notch in its bottom pedestal, presumably so it can be mounted for a religious procession. The Chola bronzes are among the great treasures of world art and many exist in prestigious museums all around the world. This particular one is on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was most likely created between the years 950 and 1000. Eagle-eyed readers who are familiar with my books may note that a different Chola bronze statue of Shiva appears on the cover of my 2008 book All Giamotti’s Children–in fact the character of Giamotti was associated with Shiva, as he claimed to possess the power to both destroy and create the universe (and himself).