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.
Statues of saints dedicated to Shiva, revered by the Cholas as their tutelary deity, played an important role in the imagery of Hindu temple complexes and were usually placed in halls surrounding the main sanctum. As is true of sculptures of major divinities, those of the saints were worshipped daily. This sculpture of a Shaiva saint is reputed to have been excavated from the Turuvan Vanpanahur Temple. The figure is the child-saint Sambandar; his taut body dates the sculpture to the 12th century, along with the stylized treatment of the hair and ornaments.
Sambandar is often identified by his joyous dancing pose. According to legend, the three-year-old Sambandar became hungry while he was visiting a temple with his father and was fed milk by a statue of Shiva and Parvati. He immediately became their devotee and spent the rest of his life singing their praises. Sambandar's poems were instrumental in reviving a type of Tamil-language poetry known as "musical poems" because they are easily set to music. Here Sambandar's dancing pose is not a reference to his own performances but to the dances performed to his musical poems in his honor or as part of the worship of Shiva.