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Metal sculptures became popular throughout India during the post-Gupta period. In South India, they mastered the art of making huge exquisite sculptures with great stress on designs and details. The art achieved its zenith in the Chola period. The Cholas were Saivites and hence they mostly cast idols of Siva ( Nataraja ), other Saiva Gods such as Muruga, Sakthi, Ganesha, Saivite Saints. They also erected and renovated Vaishnavite shrines. Idols of Vishnu, Lakshmi in various aspects were also cast. The utsava murthis (idols) of temples, which are taken out in procession during temple festivals were made of bronze and panchaloha.

All of these idols were cast based on rules, proportions and methods laid down in the ancient texts based on scientific principles. The artisans who were involved in this art are called the Sthapathis.

Basically, the metal sculptures were cast using wax models. Two methods are followed, one yielding solid figures and the other hollow images.

In one process, a wax model of deity (or any figure) is made. Over this wax model, a clay mould is made. After the clay around the wax is dried, the wax within the clay mould is heated for the wax to melt and molten metal poured into the clay mould. Once the metal is cooled and set, the outer mould is broken. The image thus created is of rough finish and lots of work will go into polishing and finishing the resulting solid sculpture.

In the second process, a clay model is first made, which is coated with an even layer of wax, strictly following the form of the figure. On top of this wax layer, fine clay is applied in thin layers in stages till a thick outer coat of clay is formed. Now there is a wax layer in between two layers of clay. Once the clay is dried, the mould is heated till the wax melts. Molten metal is poured into the gap between the two layers. The clay layers are removed to yield a hollow metal sculpture.

Photographs : courtesy Sri Giri Trading Agency