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 Mannikkavachaka, "the Ruby-worded Saint"; his taut body dates the sculpture to the 12th century, along with the stylized treatment of the hair and ornaments. Mannikkavachaka is generally shown wearing only a loincloth, and is identified by the manuscript he holds in his left hand. This book is the Tiruvachakam, a set of fifty-one hymns to Shiva written by the saint.
Mannikkavachaka lived in the middle of the 9th century and was added to the group of sixty-three Shaivite saints during the 12th century, when worship of these saints was most popular. Before he dedicated his life to Shiva, Mannikkavachaka was the trusted minister of one of the kings of the Pandyas. While en route to purchase horses for the king, Mannikkavachaka encountered Shiva disguised as a sage. He was so moved by the sage's teachings that he forgot his original errand and used the vast amount of money with which he had been entrusted to build a shrine to Shiva at Peruntai. Shiva rescued Mannikkavachaka after he was thrown into prison by the enraged king, and the saint spent the rest of his life in devotion to his lord.