Nataraj – Esther David

When one looks at the Chola bronzes of the eleventh century, changing from Abhang to Tribhanga mudras, one reacts to the body in different ways. The body becomes like a word in poetry, a sound into music, a mudra into dance, space into architecture, a form into sculpture, thoughts move into the realm of mathematics and proportion. The sculptor discovers order and rhythm, touching a divine force within. One would like to question here – does the sculptor, involved in the act of creating gods, really worship them? One is never sure. Perhaps sculptors worship numbers, rhythms, mathematics, form, detail, order.

The abode of the gods, the temple, its architecture is the pinnacle of mathematics. It makes a building worthy of worship. The sculptor remains attached to the act of his creation.

Yet, sculptors have often been banned from the installation ceremonies of the gods. But, then can one really install a god without the final stroke of the sculptor? Because, before the sculptor departs, he cuts the umbilical cord which binds him to the sculpture, he opens the eyes of the gods with the stroke of his chisel. How can there be a god without eyes? With a heavy heart, as the sculptor prepares to leave, he holds a mirror to the god he has created. So that the divinity can see the form he has taken. In this small act, the sculptor and his creation are again attached together. The departure becomes even more difficult. As, the sculptor leaves, the gods smile down at him.

The sculptor of Nataraja is known to have put his body and soul into the making of it. While pouring the bronze into the moulds, the sculptor chants– “ All of me is for you – my voice – body – hands. I tremble with the need to express. Out of the earth and the skies come all my answers. Out of the earth I create your body. Out of space I create your abode. Your bounty and beauty is my source of inspiration. Your body is the instrument of my expressions.” Soon after the Nataraja was created, the Chola king did not want another replica of the god. He just wanted one single work of art for himself. And, ordered that the sculptors thumb should be cut off, so that he could not create another image of Natraja.

A sculptor without a full hand – a thumb? How does he live? Work? Sculpt? The sculptor was undaunted he asked his sons to make for him a thumb of wood and tried to sculpt. He instructed his sons to work with him. Again he became the creator. Again the king blinded him. But, the sculptor did not stop working.

The sculptor believed that – “…a sculptor should be able to use all his senses. He should see and hear. Above all, use his hands. The scuplture on which he works upon, is merely a surface of undulations. It is important that an artist’s tactile sense should be strong. Not only in sculpture, but in everything around him. The tactile savoring should reach his senses, because an artist must always work. He must be radiant like an emerald and bountiful like a radiant cloud. He should have the power to see the image within himself. The hands savour it. It invokes the vision of the gods. It helps the sculptor to give total beauty to his creation.

The image takes form within. Feelings make forms. Sometimes the sculptor feels the figure he has sculpted is in his own image. At that moment, the sculptor becomes the sculpture! ”The blind sculptor was finishing another image of Nataraja. And, while he was working on Nataraja, tears of blood fell from his eyes, and the sculptor’s eyesight was restored. Before creating Nataraja in bronze, the sculpture was created in clay. Because clay is the substance of the cosmic center. It transforms one form into various forms.

The earth becomes the base of all art. It transforms into sculpture and architecture. The hand of the sculptor beats a red hot metal rod on the anvil, and fashions it into a chisel. Red hot, he dips the chisel into water. In a cloud of smoke – Fire touches water. As the bronze is poured into the mould, the impression of the Nataraja within, takes the form of fire and metal. Taking form, from the negative to the positive – “All of me is on fire. My voice. My body. My hands. I tremble with the need to express. My body is the instrument of my expressions.”

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