Established in 1949 and opened in 1960, the National Museum in New Delhi houses more than 210,000 art objects representing over 5,000 years of Indian art and craftmanship. With twenty five galleries spread across two floors, any serious attempt to truly take in and appreciate what the museum has to offer requires more than one visit.
For my first and long overdue visit to the National Museum in Delhi, I focused on the galleries situated on the ground floor. There will be a series of blog posts forthcoming showcasing some of the highlights of the galleries to be found here, today starting with the Bronze Gallery.
India has of course always had a rich tradition of bronze-casting to create images, perhaps the most famous being the 4,500-year-old “Dancing Girl” from the Harappan Civilization (more on that coming soon!). But it is probably the bronze art from the Chola period where this art form reached it’s zenith. Never before or since have bronzes of such grace and delicacy been cast, they are unsurpassed in their elegance, sensitive modelling, and balanced tension.
The technique involved in creating these wonderful masterpieces is known as the lost wax method. This involves first making a model out of wax, which is then encased in a clay mould. The mould is then heated, allowing the wax to run out, leaving a void into which molten bronze is poured in. Once the bronze has cooled, the mould is broken to reveal the bronze image, ready for finishing and polishing. Final sculptural touches are added to the image after it is cast, with the result that the images can be considered “carved” as well as “modelled.”
During the Pallava period, metal sculpture closely followed contemporary stone sculpture, and the images were almost invariably frontal, though modelled fully in the round, with arms held symmetrically to either side. A much greater fluidity of movement is apparent in early Chola period images (10th–11th century AD), with the movements and hand gestures of dance frequently employed. During the Vijayanagar period (1336–1565) the ornamentation tended to become more elaborate, interfering with the smooth rhythm of the body, and the postures became more rigid.
What follows is a brief virtual tour of the Bronze Gallery, detailing some of the highlights on display encompassing Hindu, Buddhist and Jain imagery. Surprisingly this gallery was the least busy during my visit, which is a great advantage when attempting to photograph pieces, although the reflections on the glass cabinets did hinder me somewhat. Hopefully what follows will entice you to make a visit yourself.
Please click on any of the images to view a more detailed description of each bronze
Without a doubt, the highlight of the wonderful bronzes in this gallery has to be the massive Nataraja, Lord of Dance. This Chola period 12th Century bronze from Tamil Nadu must rank as one of the most outstanding expressions of divine rhythm and harmony in Indian art that I have ever encountered.
The dance represents the five essential acts of Shiva; creation, preservation, destruction, veiling and grace, and it is this cosmic activity that constitutes the central motif of the dance.
It presents Shiva dancing with his right leg placed on the back of the dwarf Muyalaka, the demon of ignorance. His left leg and front left hand are lifted in a graceful gesture across the body to the right, and his left hand points towards the left foot. His front right hand is in abhaya-mudra (protection). Of his back hands, the right holds the damaru and the left holds fire. The swirling long jatas on either side of the head are sprayed with flowers; on the right swirl is the river goddess Ganga in anjali-mudra. Behind the head is a makara mukha from whose mouth emerges a circular arch with an outer band of flame tips. The Nataraja image signifies the cosmos, and hence the omnipresence of Shiva.
In addition to bronzes depicting Hindu imagery, the gallery also contains a significant number of Buddhist and Jain images. Here is a small selection of such bronzes in the gallery.
The final set of bronzes of note in the gallery come from a hoard of Buddha images discovered in Madhya Pradesh in 1964. The hoard consisted of seven magnificent bronze images of standing Buddha, and have been dated to the 5th Century. They were discovered by Haritriyamgak Gujar, while he was ploughing his field in Phophnar Kala in Madhya Pradesh. This area was within the realm of the Vakataka rulers from the 3rd to 6th Century A.D.
These images are sensitively modelled with all of them depicting abhaya-mudra (fear-not gesture).
That concludes my short virtual tour of the Bronze Gallery at the National Museum in Delhi. Further posts on some of the other galleries will be appearing over the next few weeks, which combined will hopefully give a reasonably comprehensive account of what can be seen there.
If you are planning on visiting this museum, I would suggest at least a full day is set aside and that you arrive early.
The National Museum opening times are usually :
Tue – Fri (10:00 AM to 6:00 PM)
Sat & Sun (10:00 AM to 8:00 PM)
(Closed on Mondays and National Holidays)
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