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. In Shiva worship, the bull Nandi--which means "giving delight" or "giving joy"--is Shiva's companion or vehicle, and as such represents the power of the god. Individual images of Nandi are rare in the visual arts of South Asia. Like stone images, they would have been displayed near a figure of Shiva, and a freestanding sculpture of Nandi is always placed at the entryway to a temple dedicated to Shiva. This particular piece also would have been carried in processions with images of Shiva and members of his family.
Although this unusual work has been dated later, the sensuous modeling of Nandi's form, the detailed three-dimensional treatment of his jewelry, and the organic relationship between the bull's body and his jewelry and saddle all point to a date in the 10th or 11th century. The imprecise and sketchy treatment of the base--in particular the mismatched lotus petals--present a problem in dating the sculpture because this sketchiness is often found in later works. However, it is possible that this base is later than the sculpture, because a thin break encircles the figure of the bull, suggesting that it may have been placed into the base rather than cast at the same time.