The bronze sculptures of Hindu gods and Buddhist deities cast during the Chola period (880-1279) are among the most renowned sculptures in world art. The Cholas came to power in the late 9th century, and until the late 13th century ruled a large part of south India from their homeland near Thanjavur on the southeastern coast, maintaining diplomatic ties with countries as distant as China and Indonesia. Chola rulers were active patrons of the arts, and during their rule, literature, dance, and the other performing arts flourished. They also constructed enormous temple complexes decorated with stone representations of the Hindu gods.
Unlike the famous bronze sculptures of Hindu gods, Chola-period representations of Buddhist deities are scarce and not well known. This sculpture of a standing Buddha illustrates the continuation of Buddhism in south India after the rise of Hinduism. The Buddha holds his right hand in the gesture of reassurance and his left in the gesture of charity; this combination--known as the abhayavaradamudra--can be read as a statement of the Buddha's active presence. This combination of gestures is generally used by the Buddha Shakyamuni, the founder of the religion. The use of these gestures, and the preference for images of Shakyamuni in Chola-period sculptures, point to an identification of this figure as the Historical Buddha, and was probably cast in or near the town of Nagapattinam. Buddhist bronzes dating from the 9th through 17th centuries have been attributed to the Nagapattinam workshops. Located on India's southeast coast, Nagapattinam had been a major Buddhist center from as early as the 7th century--when it was mentioned in the diary of the Chinese pilgrim Yiping--and had close and continuous ties with the Sri Lankan, Myanmarese, East Indian, and Indonesian Buddhist communities. An 11th-century flowering of Buddhism in this coastal city was spurred at least in part by the arrival of a group of colonists from the kingdo