India during the olden days was rich in Indian cultures and sculptures. Different crafts rose to prominence. They were artisans who were using different metals to create idols.

During the Chola dynasty, this craft rose to the significance and it occupied a central position in Indian cultures and Hindu worship. There were idols of bronze icons that are made of 5 metals and are termed panchaloha. These idols carry the ability to store and emit positive cosmos after manta chanting.

During the Chola dynasty, Rajaraja Chola was a prominent king of the Chola dynasty.  During his rule, the temple of Thanjavur was constructed. During the establishment of these temples, chapatis established themselves. The king acknowledge their skills and utilized their skills for constructing another temple in Swamimalai. Post the completion of the temple, chapatis decides to settle in Swamimalai. Due to series of events, led to the rise of Sthapathis and their craft of bronze icons. These bronze icons were made by community artisans. In previous times, people used to associate the Hindi workshop with bronze icons. These are just not idols of worship but also a reflection of artistry and craft which is engines in Indian culture. Moreover, this knowledge of making these bronze icons has been passed from one generation to another generation.

Usage: –

These icons are used to depict different gods or saints. The icons of deities are mainly used for worship wherein they are mainly made for large sizes and also kept in temples and are made in smaller sizes and placed at the home of devotees for personal worship or decoration. The icons of men, women, and animals are showcased in the home as works of art. These icons used to have some medicinal properties as they expose a sort of cosmic effect. Such icons are considered to have living gods themselves. These idols are even gold polish finish or brown antique finish or green antique finish.

Significance: –

These icons were made in India over 1100 years ago for worship. These icons serve a historical meaning attached to them. These icons serve the purpose of reminding people of sacred truths, spiritual stories, and meditation. From every body part to small decorations, it had cultural significance and connection to legends and myths. These icons depict heroes of Indian epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata. Swamimalai bronze icons have historic, cultural, spiritual, artistic, and economic significance across the globe.

It is to be believed that sthapathis belong to the Vishwakarma community. Vishwakarma had 5 faces, 3 eyes, and 10 arms and they were born from the third eye of Lord Shiva a deity of artisans.

Designs: –

The heights of these icons range from 6 feet to 12 feet and also the size can vary according to customer demands. The most popular icon is Lord Shiva. These icons were shown with musical instruments. These icons are stand-alone pieces or maybe in pairs. Many icons of men, women, and animal pieces are made for decoration and these icons are shown holding lamps, flowers, or vessels.

The description of idols –

  • Icons are placed on a pedestal to give them stability
  • Single measurement as per Shilpa Shastra.
  • Unit of measurement known as Tala.
  • Tala defines a distance between the end of the lower jaw and the hairline.
  • Tala is believed to be divided into 12 equal parts.

The sthapathis is required to adhere to the rules and he used his creativity to channel his artistic sensibilities and present a perfectly made bronze icon. These artisans can combine their knowledge and imagination to design the icon. No two bronze icons are the same.

Iconology –

This is defined as the study of symbols behind sacred images. These swamimalai bronze icons depict different deities In different postures and situations and understanding the symbolism. This helps one to understand the history and spiritual message. These are classified based on different reasons –

  • Yoga murti – Idols in various meditation postures
  • Bhoga Murti- Deity in a domestic situation and most suitable for worship in temples.
  • ViraMurti – Deity in a heroic posture. E.g., Rama defeating Ravana.
  • Urga Murti – These icons are used for protection against enemies

Different Mudras –

The language of the hands is known as Mudra. It is significant in all forms of Indian art and dance or sculpture.

Abhaya Mudra – Fearlessness 

Varada Mudra – Generosity 

Chin Mudra – Gesture of teaching

Dhyana Mudra – Meditation

Tarjani Mudra – vigilance

Challenges: –

Every traditional handicraft goes through the struggles of existence, evolution, and revival of the craft. There is the problem of middlemen who buys the products directly from the sthapathis and sell at exorbitant prices. This not only impacts the business but also prevents the customers from getting the bronze icons at market rates. The industry also faces the risk of fake imitation and duplicates which is made in large quantities. This depicts the false picture of the quality and design of Swamimalai bronze icons. There is the possibility of a bright future for these Swamimalai bronze icons that hold the promise of longevity that will ensure a significant position in Indian culture and tradition.

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