Skip to Main Content

The Sixty-Fifth A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts: The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Chola Bronzes from South India, c. 855–1280, Part 1: Gods on Parade: Sacred Forms of Copper

Vidya Dehejia, Barbara Stoler Miller Professor of Indian Art, Columbia University. In this six-part lecture series entitled The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Chola Bronzes from South India, c. 855–1280, art historian Vidya Dehejia discusses the work of artists of Chola India who created exceptional bronzes of the god Shiva, invoked as “Thief Who Stole My Heart.” Graceful, luminous sculptures of high copper content portrayed the deities as sensuous figures of sacred import. Every bronze is a portable image, carried through temple and town to participate in celebrations that combined the sacred with the joyous atmosphere of carnival. In these lectures, Dehejia discusses the images as tangible objects that interact in a concrete way with human activities and socioeconomic practices. She asks questions of this body of material that have never been asked before, concerning the source of wealth that enabled the creation of bronzes, the origin of copper not available locally, the role of women patrons, the strategic position of the Chola empire at the center of a flourishing ocean trade route between Aden and China, and the manner in which the Cholas covered the walls of their temples with thousands of inscriptions, converting them into public records offices. These sensuous portrayals of the divine gain their full meaning with critical study of information captured through a variety of lenses. In this first lecture, entitled "Gods on Parade: Sacred Forms of Copper," originally delivered at the National Gallery of Art on April 3, 2016, Professor Dehejia focuses on the extraordinary concept of the deity as an active participant in a range of temple festivities, celebrating a wedding anniversary or enjoying the fresh breeze at the beach. It examines the introduction of copper to produce these many bronzes, whose method of creation allows no replicas; each Chola bronze is a singular, unique image, solid and weighty.