Buying Bronzes in Tamil Nadu

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#1 Jul 22nd, 2011, 14:06
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I spent the entire day on the 25th of June and some time on the 26th searching for the perfect and affordable (that's the operative word for me) bronze or Panchaloga (five-metals) nataraja. I visited about 11 outlets that day in various parts of chennai. I will afford one sometime later - but here's what i learnt and i hope it helps you.

Chennai gets (either as imports from within the tamil nadu or even now, increasingly from the north of the country) significant number of brass, bronze as well as panchaloga (five metals) items that are used as devotional objects.

Here're a few places where you could find the authentic 'lost-wax casting' idols:

a) Shops in Mint street, chennai behind the old temple (not for the faint of heart - crowded area and can be filthy at times).

b) VTI (Victoria Technical Institute) - near Spencer plaza - mount road. Very customer friendly. Prices are slightly higher but more importantly the variety isnt as good as the mint street stores. Here's a URL: http://www.vtichennai.com/

c) Poompuhar (the Tamil Nadu state government handicrafts emporium)- also on mount road - this is on your left as you go straight from Spencer plaza towards ritchie street / parry's. They have a very good selection of bronze (including the now popular 'antique finish bronze idols- which in some cases is just a polish that would give it a patina' and brass.

d) Srushti handicrafts chennai - they're in chamiers and should have a good variety - i didn't visit them but spoke with the manager that day. http://www.srushtihandicrafts.com/about-us.html

e) Giri stores, Mylapore- near the kapaleeshwara temple. More brass than bronze but prices are competitive.

Now, most of the lost wax items are made in kumbakonam - so if you're traveling there, those places might be a better bet to shop around. I guess you'd have to know a bit of tamil (I had challenges even in parts of chennai talking to the staff).

Few tips:
a) A typical 6 inch nataraja made in kumbakonam will start around INR 4500 in bronze and more than 10000 in panchaloga (in chennai shops). Cheaper than this, and you're looking at stuff made in muradabad or even in roorkee. A good statue (8 inches or more with good facial expressions) is north of INR 20,000.

b) Panchaloga will be typically heavier- lead is one of the components - lift a few statues and you'd get the idea.

c) The touristy shops on Anna Salai (mount road) opposite poompuhar are a rip off- they inflate prices and expect you to negotiate hard. Not a very pleasant experience there.

d ) A good sculpture will have symmetry, finish and above all, a sense of life in it. It's getting more and more difficult as the sculptors realize there's money to be made and consequently perhaps hurry up the process? You may want to google some chola bronze statues and have a look at the facial expression of the natarajas for the sense of serenity those statues have. That's my aim - to find one and then hopefully have enough dosh to pay the price as well. I saw something for Rs 48,500 at Giri chennai that was appropriately priced and also a Rs 5600 nataraja at VTI which i thought wasn't worth half that money. I think the spiraling prices of metals (especially copper) over the last two years has also taken its toll.

e) How do you get a sense of what makes an extra-ordinary nataraja - or rather, in the limited time that you'd have in Chennai how do you get the value for your money. Let's start by observing the statue on the domestic terminal (arrivals section) of Chennai airport. As you proceed towards the exit, take a minute to stop in front of the large nataraja statue displayed there. It has very good proportions and reasonably good expressions. The hands of a nataraja (especially the second left - pointing downwards towards the foot) is always graceful and sort of flowing. The head is bent slightly upwards, eyes closed, nose always turned up at about 15 degrees and the lord is seen smiling (just enough so) having conquered the demon under his foot.

f) Perhaps a minor point, the faithful would always pair a nataraja with a statue of Sivakami (parvathi) - to keep the yin and yang balance intact. A Sivakami idol will be smaller and lower priced - approx 1/3rd of the nataraja idol.

g) An excellent place to visit and see some of the old bronze idols would be the government museum in chennai. They have quite a collection of Chola bronze sculptures. I last visited in 2005 and i believe much improvement has been made since then. The website claims they have over 1500(!!) bronze pieces on display.

h) Make sure you insist on finding the origin of the statue (especially in chennai). Quite a bit of these have started coming in from UP (muradabad) and even Haryana (rewari). I doubt if they are hand made at all. These statues are just 1/4th the price of the kumbakonam ones. If you shop around a bit, after feeling the weight of many statues you'd get the idea - but if not, ask the shopkeeper - they're usually upfront about it.

It will take time to find that perfect statue - but it's worth the investment as you would want to look at it every day. And besides, they last a lifetime.
Last edited by vaibhav_arora; Jul 23rd, 2011 at 12:25.. Reason: corrected an error
#2 Jul 22nd, 2011, 19:14
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Mod Note
I have created a new thread out of an old one.


Please continue this interesting discussion about Tamil Nadu bronzes.

(This thread came out of here:Help with Tamil Nadu trip in August. Buying Brass Chola sculptures?)
"Language is a weapon, it's not for shaving your armpits."

- Mahashweta Debi, Bengali author and activist.
#3 Jul 23rd, 2011, 12:16
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It appears that rather few people are interested in reading up on this matter. I am, however, very much interested. So I've continued to dig around a bit and found an excellent article (rather a piece of teaching material) that saves me from typing a whole lot. I was planning to type out a bit about the 'other' gods that are popular as bronze / brass / panchaloga idols in Tamil Nadu and came across this article from the American federation of arts on the subject of chola bronzes.

http://www.afaweb.org/education/docu...sResources.pdf.

I would like to add a few points that are out of the purview of this article namely which gods (as brass or bronze idols) are more popular in the south versus those that may have originated from the north.

a) South only or likely south:
- Kamadhenu - A cow shaped sculpture with the a female torso attached to it.
- Murugan (Kartikeya) - God of war (the other son of lord shiva)
- Soma-skanda (Shiva with Murugan (who is also referred to as skanda)
- Ardhanareeswar (Shiva's avatar - half man, half woman - readily identifiable with only one breast)
- Madurai Veeran (A tamil folk deity)
- Amman (a goddess of fertility - the lady @ giri stores kept referring to 'not having baby - worship this goddess' - rest I got from google)
- Nataraja (no description needed)

b) North likely:
- Sun (Depicted with mustaches)
- Rama / Rama-Sita / Ramayan idols
- Hanuman
- Krishna in ras-lila pose.

c) Both:
- Siva (though other than nataraja, i cant distinguish which ones are south only or more importantly tamil in origin)
- Radha-Krishna
- Vishnu
- Lakshmi
- Ganesa / Vinayak (a dancing Ganesa on a snake is quite a unique bronze to possess)

The list above is based on what i have seen and someone from the south of the country will probably have more helpful info on this topic - so please add.
#4 Jul 23rd, 2011, 15:00
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#4
Bear in mind that many more people will read your post than just those who answer it. This thread is a valuable contribution.
#5 Jul 23rd, 2011, 17:57
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Useful post Vaibhav. This has been extensively discussed in another thread perhaps a year or so ago so its good that you have brought it up front for anyone else who may be interested.

You can visit Poompuhar's workshops all over Tamil Nadu and buy really good pieces direct if ever you get the chance. Their bronze workshop is in Swamimalai and the brass one at Nachiarkovil, both near Kumbakonam.
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#6 Jul 24th, 2011, 02:14
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I had the opportunity to tour a shop just east of Swamimalai Temple. The workmanship was truly impressive. If you go to Swamimalai and ask to see shops or just walk around, you can't miss them.
Last edited by Eastern Mind; Jul 24th, 2011 at 05:10..
#7 Jul 24th, 2011, 10:31
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Eastern Mind - did you ask for and can share any price details from this shop at Swamimalai? During my search in Chennai i realized that there's no uniformity in prices for these idols. Swamimalai should be cheaper but it would help to know by how much.
#8 Jul 24th, 2011, 20:25
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Originally Posted by vaibhav_arora View Post Eastern Mind - did you ask for and can share any price details from this shop at Swamimalai? During my search in Chennai i realized that there's no uniformity in prices for these idols. Swamimalai should be cheaper but it would help to know by how much.
Sorry, I just don't know. But like you, I would assume its much cheaper directly from the shop. The one I toured has quite the reputation for quality, and there were some individual buyers there making orders at the time. So they can do custom stuff as well. All the shops seem simple. The one I went to was run by a Kubera Stapathi.
#9 Jul 24th, 2011, 21:28
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A dry note if I may (and notably foreign travelers should note anyway that India has -- technically, at least -- strict regulations on the export of antiques):

Just a while ago, I was traipsing around a Dutch flea market. One of the sellers had, among various of the usual Asian trinkets and odds & ends, quite a handful of original Nepali palm leaf scrolls on sale, for a ridiculously low price, for that matter. In various states of decomposition, and she couldn't even read them, nor I, for that matter; nor even did either of us know what script it was.

She told me she went to Asia a few times a year to collect her offerings, as indeed so many do. Now anyway I may have hinted as much to her, but didn't otherwise get into the matter, thinking it'd be useless and I was just having a good day that I wasn't about to spoil; but I found myself wondering whether that stuff hadn't been better off being left in the temple or wherever it belonged. That's someone's heritage you're looking at, and that they're painstakingly trying to preserve, not rarely against all odds. (In the Himalayas btw there are dozens of languages and dialects spoken, and they're dying out on a daily basis as we speak. You can look up the numbers on it, it's scary.

As indeed I've met Tibetan Buddhists in India, who, amidst their otherwise absolutely simple and pastoral life, led me into one shack filled with -- at the time -- state-of-the-art computers, where they were indeed trying to preserve their written culture. They explained -- in whatever English we could scarcely speak to one another -- these are kept on wooden print blocks, which wear over time and with each print, so preserving them now and while they still can is indeed of the essence.)

So, just a note. Buying modern replicas and so on, shouldn't be a problem and not hurting anyone, of course. (Perhaps even helping to keep various artistic traditions alive.)

(And I did urge the woman btw to take it to some relevant museum, where she'd probably fetch the better price for it, too, just by way of enticing her. She however didn't seem to quite catch what I was on about.)

(And thinking only now, maybe I should have bought them & done so myself, like I said, she was selling them for peanuts anyway. Some still kept in their original and elaborately-carved if otherwise quite sober boxes even; but obviously just decorational pieces all of it, so including those scrolls themselves, in her eyes. I know some Asian studies departments here who'd no doubt take an interest and be thankful for it, nor would I be wanting any money off of them, one is actually engaged precisely in preserving or at least recording those Himalayan languages while they still can. Oh well, the thought didn't occur to me, and being a goodie-two-shoes goes only so far, and then anyway who wants to encourage such people.)
#10 Jul 24th, 2011, 21:32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vaibhav_arora View Post Eastern Mind - did you ask for and can share any price details from this shop at Swamimalai? During my search in Chennai i realized that there's no uniformity in prices for these idols. Swamimalai should be cheaper but it would help to know by how much.
I dont know if you are interested in Poompuhar but you can call them and enquire, usually it is by weight but they can give you a ball park figure. They also take custom orders.

Poompuhar Artmetal Production Centre,
(Bronze icons manufacturing Unit)
Thiruvalanzuli Main Road,
SWAMIMALAI 612 302,
Thanjavur Dist.
Tel: 0435 2454442.


For brass, call here:
Poompuhar Brass & Bell Metal Production Centre,
South Street, NACHIARKOIL 612 602
Thanjavur Dist.
Tel: 0435 2466553
#11 Jul 25th, 2011, 00:35
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Thanks snonymous - I was trying to get an idea of other places since Poompuhar is government controlled and has little reason to have a price variation across it centres (I spent time in the one in Chennai). Still, thanks for the numbers and the address.
#12 Jul 25th, 2011, 08:08
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You need to shop somewhere where there's a bit of competition going on. I picked up a lovely 8" bronze Ardhanariswari for Rs 2700 in one of the big antique shops in Jew Town, Mattancherry a few months back. Don't know where it was made, mind you.....
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#13 Jul 25th, 2011, 10:10
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Interesting, there have been a few replies by now, and many more must have read it -- but the ethical finesses of buying cultural artifacts there no one seems to want get into?

Hmm... indeed.
#14 Jul 25th, 2011, 10:16
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India seems to have more "cultural artifacts" than the rest of the world combined, and a good many people employed in creating them. So what's the harm in supporting the craft? Once all that loot from Kerala hits the market, they won't be able to give them away.
#15 Jul 25th, 2011, 10:20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vaibhav_arora View Post Thanks snonymous - I was trying to get an idea of other places since Poompuhar is government controlled and has little reason to have a price variation across it centres (I spent time in the one in Chennai). Still, thanks for the numbers and the address.
Their workshop prices are lower.
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