Art of the past: Uma-Maheswara, 11th-century Pala bronze
What: A Pala bronze from Bengal, it shows Shiva and Parvati in a tender embrace. While Chola bronzes bask in the limelight of the global antiquities world, this piece testifies to comparable skills in eastern India, during the Pala empire. The majority of Pala bronzes are Buddhist in theme, which makes this a rare depiction of Hindu deities.
Style: Made using the intricate lost-wax process, mentioned in the shilpa-shastras, a wax model of the sculpture is first coated with clay. On heating, it dispenses the melted wax and creates a mould. The molten bronze is poured into the hollow core which assumes the sculptural shape and the embellishments are added later. Viewing the sculpture, just 20cm in height, makes for a moving experience and the sheer detail is easy to overlook. Shiva’s right leg rests on Nandi, the bull, while Parvati’s is on her vehicle, the lion. Smaller yet are the figures of their sons, Kartikeya and Ganesha, flanking the couple.
Look closer: Some gold polish is still visible on Shiva and Parvati, giving the sculpture a resplendent sheen in places.
This is the second in a six-part series introducing our picks of antique art and sculpture from the National Museum, Delhi.