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 6: Worship in Uncertain Times: The Secret Burial of Bronzes in 1310
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 sixth lecture, entitled "Worship in Uncertain Times: The Secret Burial of Bronzes in 1310," originally delivered at the National Gallery of Art on May 8, 2016, Professor Dehejia looks at the dramatic secret burial of bronzes in temple after temple in 1310, an attempt to safeguard them from armies of the Delhi sultanate that marched south to seize the fabled jewels of the Chola temples. These buried bronzes emerged in the 20th century when unsuspecting laborers began temple expansion projects. The lecture concludes with a look at today’s art market and the transformation of beloved sacred bronzes into highly prized works of art.