Experts to clean bronze idols in Pondy museum

By Deepa H Ramakrishnan

PONDICHERRY AUG. 26. In an effort to conserve the third best collection of bronzes in the country housed in the Pondicherry Museum, a team of conservators from the National Museum Institute is here to clean the idols and other articles.

There are 81 bronze idols in the museum that were excavated from the Karaikal and Pondicherry region and they belong to the Chola period.

Of these, 46 have been maintained by the museum as they were found, without removing the mud from them. The conservators, Achal Pandya, Priya Kapoor and Manoj Sharma, will be here for about three months and `clean' the articles.

In the first stage, they will manually clear the `muddy incrustations' found on the idols. "We don't want to use any kind of chemicals that might damage the idols'', says Mr. Pandya.

Apart from the mud that forms a thick layer, the idols also have been subject to corrosion in the form of copper carbonate formation. "It is the green color that is found on bronze idols also called as noble patina. This protects the idol and also gives it an aesthetic look'', adds Mr. Pandya. This layer does not enter the idol.

Some other statues have what is called the `Bronze disease' due to copper chloride formation. "This enters the metal and eats it up. These are given chemical treatment but if the disease has penetrated too much, then nothing can be done'', he explains.

After removing the muddy layer, they are washed with distilled water, sun dried and wiped. Then all of them are given a one per cent protective coating, which is reversible. "Any treatment that we give must be reversible and should not harm the article'', notes Mr. Pandya. They do not give any kind of chemical treatment to the articles unless totally necessary since it might spoil the features.

This conservation effort has been taken up at the instance of the Art and Culture Deparment. The Minister for Art and Culture, K. Lakshminarayanan, inaugurated the work at a simple function recently. Students of art, who are interested in conservation were invited to observe as to how the preservation work is done.

The museum has bronze sculptures of Hindu gods including Somaskandar (from the Arasalar riverbed in Karaikal), Pradoshamurthy (Thirunallar), Sivakami Amman, Nataraja, Murugan, Kali (Pondicherry); saints Manikkavasagar, Gnanasambandar, Appar (from Polagam, Karaikal) cast during the Chola period (880-1279). Pooja articles including different kinds of lamps, flower baskets and conches are also included in the collection.

Chola-period bronzes were said to have been created using the lost-wax technique. Because of this each sculpture is unique. The most unique feature of Chola period idols is the Thribhanga pose (triple bend posture).