AN ELEGANT BRONZE FIGURE OF APPAR SOUTHERN INDIA, CIRCA 13TH CENTURY
- Height: 22 3/4 in. (59 cm)
Pan-Asian Collection, 1968-1983.
Christie's New York, 13th September 2011, lot 270.
Bronze images such as these were objects of devotion in Shaivite shrines. Shiva was the kulanayaka or dynastic patron deity of the Chola Emperors. They built shrines dedicated to his worship throughout their lands which were repositories for numerous bronze images of the Lord and his pantheon including the nayanmars, a group of sixty-three Shaiva saints who are widely venerated in South India. These holy men traveled throughout the land singing hymns in praise of the Lord Shiva and their songs and poems form a rich corpus of devotional literature constituting the core of the Tamil sacred canon, known as the Tevaram.
The most famous of the nayanmars was the child saint Sambandar who is reputed to have lived in the seventh century. The saint Appar, subject of the present image, who was older, was his contemporary and it is believed that the title Appar, or “revered father,” was conferred upon him by Sambandar. Appar was a Jain monk who converted to Shaivism and is thus portrayed with a shaved head. He approached Shiva as a humble servant and performed menial tasks in his temples including clearing the weeds that sprang up within the temple premises. That is why he is commonly pictured with a hoe in the crook of his arm. In early images the hoe was cast along with the figure. Later it was added separately. The present image is missing its hoe but Appar’s gentle, humble persona is very accurately portrayed.
Alongside the worship of Shiva there were specific festivals in the calendar celebrating the nayanmars themselves. As part of ritual practice, the images were lustrated with water, honey, butter and milk and rubbed down with ash. They were then anointed with sandal paste and vermilion, clothed, garlanded and carried around the town or temple premises in ritual procession so that all devotes had the opportunity to gain a darshan or view of the holy icon.
This image has passed through the hands of some of the most legendary collectors of South Asian Art in the twentieth century - J. R. Belmont, Christian Humann and Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. For a closely related figure of Appar in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, see Vidya Dehejia, The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India, New York, 2002, cat. 29, pp. 156-57.