Admired for the sensuous depiction of the figure and the detailed treatment of their clothing and jewelry, Chola-period bronzes were created using the lost wax technique, commonly known by its French name, cire perdue. Because each sculpture made in this fashion requires a separate wax model, each is unique, but because they are religious icons, Chola-period sculptures also conform to well-established iconographic conventions.
As devout Hindus, the Cholas revered Shiva as their tutelary deity in his role as Lord of the Dance, or Shiva Nataraja, depicted here in this 12th-century sculpture. Under Chola patronage the concept of Shiva Nataraja became closely associated with the performance of one particular dance, the dance of bliss (or ananda tandava), and with one particular pose--a four-armed Shiva standing on the back of a dwarf with his left leg poised in front of his body. It is believed that Shiva first performed the dance of bliss in order to redeem a group of sages who were practicing an unorthodox form of Hinduism. In an attempt to resist Shiva, the sages challenged him with a tiger, a snake, and a dwarf-demon. Shiva subdued all three. As a result, the Lord of the Dance often wears a snake belt and an animal-skin loincloth, and he usually stands on the back of a dwarf. These three creatures symbolize the untam