Art & Architecture

The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Sacred Bronzes from Chola India, 855–1280

The first book to put the sacred and sensuous bronze statues from India’s Chola dynasty in social context


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Oct 17, 2023
242 color + 3 b/w illus. 4 tables. 8 maps.
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From the ninth through the thirteenth century, the Chola dynasty of southern India produced thousands of statues of Hindu deities, whose physical perfection was meant to reflect spiritual beauty and divine transcendence. During festivals, these bronze sculptures—including Shiva, referred to in a saintly vision as “the thief who stole my heart”—were adorned with jewels and flowers and paraded through towns as active participants in Chola worship. In this richly illustrated book, leading art historian Vidya Dehejia introduces the bronzes within the full context of Chola history, culture, and religion. In doing so, she brings the bronzes and Chola society to life before our very eyes.

Dehejia presents the bronzes as material objects that interacted in meaningful ways with the people and practices of their era. Describing the role of the statues in everyday activities, she reveals not only the importance of the bronzes for the empire, but also little-known facets of Chola life. She considers the source of the copper and jewels used for the deities, proposing that the need for such resources may have influenced the Chola empire’s political engagement with Sri Lanka. She also investigates the role of women patrons in bronze commissions and discusses the vast public records, many appearing here in translation for the first time, inscribed on temple walls.

From the Cholas’ religious customs to their agriculture, politics, and even food, The Thief Who Stole My Heart offers an expansive and complete immersion in a community still accessible to us through its exquisite sacred art.

Published in association with the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Please note: All images in this ebook are presented in black and white and have been reduced in size.