Thanjavur: The Royal Museum

He is holding her hand. His long middle finger curves over the back of her hand; the second and fifth are bent so that the tips gently brush or rest on her thumb and wrist respectively. His grip is loose yet firm, enveloping her palm but allowing her fingers to be free, to caress the space between his thumb and first finger. Around his wrist, three bangles; around hers a wide bracelet. Shorter than he, she stands demure but no less sure; slender waist and bare breasts symbols of femininity and surety without being provocative or sexual. He stands firm without being domineering even though he is aware of his power. His broad shoulders are reminders of that power, not threatening, but as she just is, so he just is.

This is Kalyanasundarar, the wedding of Shiva and Parvati, beautifully executed in bronze in the 11th century and one of a large number of bronzes in the Royal Museum in Thanjavur. To the left of the happy couple is Vishnu, officiating, a smile upon his face, pleased to be performing this role. Despite being deities this set seem human. The multiple arms may detract from this a bit but they are clearly gods incarnate, with expressions that reflect us all on our wedding day.

Beautiful though this scene is, my eyes are pulled to the Nataraja, the 12th century sacred image of Shiva dancing, ringed by tongues of flame. There are many versions of this, in many sizes but this one is imposing not only in its size but in the superb craftmanship, a quality that rightly befits a god. Remembering that this is a casting, the detail is breathtaking. The patterns on the ring of fire, the detail on the headgear, the delicacy of fingers and toes; ignorant of the craft that made this, I am in awe of the workmanship. A small cup with a flame is held lightly between thumb and forefinger; four of the toes on each foot have rings on them; the body adornments of amulets, bracelets and anklets, together with necklaces and belts are all lightly done, following the flow of the dancers body, adding a small but essential emphasis to the movement.

The museum is not just home to these bronzes. There are examples of painted glass, a local tradition, and statuary from other periods and religions. An 11th century Buddha sits serenely on a lotus leaf, palms resting one on top another, the open eyes in meditation - perhaps contemplating that in all our diversity we are still all the same, though we have yet to learn this.

To see more pictures from The Royal Museum, follow this link to Flickr