The Cleveland Surya & Its Kulu Connection

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The magnificent image of Surya in the Cleveland Museum of Art depicts the sun god standing straight in samapada-sthanaka (समपाद-स्थानक) posture and wearing udicya-vesa (उदीच्य-वेश), or the northern dress, which includes a long tunic and high boots. He is holding lotuses in his hands. The exquisite and richly embroidered tunic is supported at the waist by an avyanga (अव्यङ्ग) or mekhala (मेखल) having a floral buckle and the boots feature beaded trims. The sun god is adorned with a pearl necklace, floral bracelets, and an exquisite cylindrical crown.

Surya, the sun God, Northern India, 8th Century. Leaded brass, height 50.3 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art.

As per the musem website, this brass image of Surya came from the Kashmir valley. However, some well-known art historians and scholars have weighed in on the subject and their opinions all point to a different story.

Dr. Vishwa Chandra Ohri¹ remarked that the image’s characteristics and several other details altogether deviate from Kashmiri craftsmanship. He compared the image’s facial sculpting to that of the wooden Surya of Gajan (Kulu), and its crown to that of the Surya image from Bajaura (Kulu).

Left image: Surya, 8th-9th century, Gajan (Kulu).
Right image: Surya, 8th century, Bajaura (Kulu).

Furthermore, Dr. John Siudmak,² states that the image bears no resemblance to any known Kashmirian Surya forms, neither in facial or bodily appearance nor in decoration, and hence is unlikely to have originated there. Instead, he compared the image to a couple of Surya sculptures from Kumaon.

Left image: Surya, 7th-8th century, Baijnath (Uttarakhand).
Right image: Surya, 7th-8th century, Jageshwar (Uttarakhand).
Images sourced from Sculptures of Western Himalayas by V. C. Ohri.

The most notable remark, for me, regarding the image’s provenance, came from Karl Khandalavala,³ the renowned art connoisseur and advocate. He pronounced that the artwork was incorrectly attributed to Kashmir and claimed that it came from a Kulu temple. Unfortunately, he did not provide any other details, but coming from someone of his stature, this comment merits further investigation.


Notes

1. Ohri, V. C. (1988). Hill Bronzes from Chamba Area. In Karl Khandalavala, Asharani Mathur & Sonya Singh (eds.), Indian Bronze Masterpieces: The Great Tradition.

2. Siudmak, John (1991). Carved Rock Relief at Nadihel in the Kashmir Valley. In Gail, A.J. & Mevissen, G.J.R. (eds.), South Asian Archaeology, 1991.

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3. Karl Khandalavala (1989). Review of ‘Sculpture of Chamba: a brief Survey,’ by Ohri, V. C. History and Culture of the Chamba State, a Western Himalayan Kingdom.

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