This exhibition presents an innovative look at a stunning selection of Chola bronzes in the social and historical context of devotion. The tradition of cast-bronze sculptures in the Tamil-speaking region of south India became widely prevalent under the imperial rule of the Cholas, who rose to prominence in the late ninth century at Tanjavur (Tanjore) in the delta of the Kaveri River. These sculptures, mainly created from the ninth through the thirteenth century, represent the pinnacle of bronze casting in India. The technical quality mastered during this period has not been equaled since. Their graceful poses, refined modeling, and subtle strength attest to their artistic value, while historically they functioned as ritual images, or icons. This exhibition considers these extraordinary objects in relation to the Hindu tradition of devotion, or bhakti, which emphasizes intense and intimate devotion to a personal god. While bhakti takes different regional forms throughout India, the earliest bhakti movements arose in the southern region of the Indian subcontinent and were manifested in temple bronzes and Tamil poetry of the bhakti saints. The rise of vernacular devotional movements served as an alternative to the ritualized approach of temple priests. The ruling Chola elites, who were mainly followers of Shiva, drew upon this popular piety in their patronage of temple bronzes, partly to legitimize their dynastic power and social prestige. The depiction of poet-saints—who lived prior to Chola rule, between the sixth and ninth centuries—in numerous bronzes reflects the importance of these itinerant poets in promoting bhakti, which in turn affected the growth of Hindu temples among communities of devotees. The meaning and function of these sacred bronzes in bhakti involve a number of important ritual concepts, including, in Sanskrit: utsavas (festivals), puja (worship), darshana (seeing [god]), abhisheka (anointment), alamkara (embellishment), and avatara (divine descent). The exhibition is arranged by religious concept, rather than chronology to provide social and cultural context for these extraordinary sculptures and to reflect principal ideas and sculptural groupings found at south Indian temple sites. The exhibition presents the entire stunning collection of Chola bronzes from Asia Society’s Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, considered to include some of the best bronzes in the world, along with select bronzes from significant private collections. The Chola period masterpieces are displayed along with contemporary photographs of similar bronzes in procession and worship in Tamil Nadu; this interplay of image and processional rites was an important aspect of faith in Chola south India, as well as in the lives of Hindus today. Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Curator for Traditional Asian Art, Asia Society Jacqueline Ganem, Asia Society Museum Getty Fellow   For more information on Asia Society’s Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, these titles are available at AsiaStore: Treasures of Asian Art: The Asia Society’s Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection A Passion for Asia: The Rockefeller Legacy

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