Detail View: The AMICA Library: Saint Sambandar

AMICA Library Year: 
Object Type: 
Creator Nationality: 
Asian; Indian Sub-Continent; Indian
Creator Dates/Places: 
South Indian
Creator Name-CRT: 
South Indian
Saint Sambandar
Full view
Creation Date: 
Chola period, 12th century
Creation Start Date: 
Creation End Date: 
Materials and Techniques: 
Copper alloy
Creation Place: 
India, Tamil Nadu
H. 18 7/8 in. (47.9 cm)
AMICA Contributor: 
Asia Society
Owner Location: 
New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 
Credit Line: 
Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
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.

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.

Related Document Description: 
Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 16.
Related Document Description: 
Barrett, Douglas. 'A Group of Bronzes of the Late Cola Period.' Oriental Art 29 (Winter 1983-84), p. 365.
Related Document Description: 
Lee, Sherman E. Asian Art: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd. New York: Asia Society, 1970, pp. 28, 32.
Related Document Description: 
Tarapor, Mahrukh. 'A Note on Chola Bronzes.' Apollo (November 1983), p. 412.
Related Document Description: 
Young, Mahonri Sharp. 'Treasures of the Orient: A Rockefeller Collection.' Apollo (November 1970), p. 336.
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