India (Tamil Nadu)
Copper alloy; H. 29 3/8 in. (74.6 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and Doris Wiener Gifts, 2010 (2010.230)
Among the most popular of the Shaiva saints is Sambandar, the seventh-century child saint who after receiving a gift of milk form the goddess Uma, devoted his life to composing hymns in praise of Lord Shiva. Sambandar is one of the three principal saints, the muvar, or Reverend Three, of South Indian Hinduism, who were believed to have been jointly responsible for the vast corpus of devotional hymns written in praise of Shiva from the seventh to the ninth century. The child saint offers the milk cup emblematic of his conversion and gestures skyward at Shiva's heavenly abode on Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. He wears a miniature trisula (Shiva's trident) flanked by a tiger's-teeth pendant and, low on his hips, a garland of small bells, together with armbands, anklets and toe-rings. The lotus pedestal and moldings are quintessentially high Chola style, echoing those on the platforms of contemporary temples.
Temples commissioned sets of images of the Shaiva and Vaishnava saints (the 63 Nayanmars and the 12 Alvars) to use in festival processions alongside icons of the principal deities. This icon of Sambandar is among the finest surviving castings of the subject, akin in quality to processional bronzes known to have been royal commissions.