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. Shiva is the most complicated deity in the Hindu pantheon, has the most manifestations, and is worshipped in many guises. Images of Shiva and his wife Parvati seated together with their son Skanda, a tableau known as Somaskanda, are among the more popular icons produced during the Chola period. In the Somaskanda illustrated here, Shiva is identified by the crescent moon and skull in his headdress, references to his asceticism, as well as the antelope in his left hand, which refers to his role as Lord of Animals. As Shiva's wife, Parvati is often shown as gentle and loving. In family portraits such as this, she is smaller than Shiva and holds her right hand in a distinctive gesture in which the hand is curved and the thumb and the forefinger touch or almost touch. As is frequently true of bronzes of this type, the small image of Skanda (also known as Kumara, Karttikeya, and the god of war), whose presence is indicated by the round area on top of the pedestal, has been lost over time.
Shiva is the only god in the Hindu pantheon who is commonly shown in his role as husband and father. Most often Shiva's family life is illustrated by scenes such as this one, in which he is enjoying the company of his wife and son.