Of Love and War

Tamil (Hi-)Stories from India and the World

From 8 October 2022 to 7 May 2023, the Linden Museum Stuttgart presents the exhibition "Of Love and War. Tamil (Hi-)Stories from India and the World". The exhibition shows the history and present of Tamil culture.

Over 80 million people in India, Sri Lanka and other parts of the world identify themselves as Tamils: They share the same language, Tamil, which originated in southern India. The exhibition seeks to bring their history and stories to life in a variety of ways, as different people share their narratives about Tamil cultures and identities. Tamil social movements, performing and visual arts, aspects of everyday culture and religious diversity are presented from different perspectives. The exhibition shows archaeological objects attributed to the Caṅkam period, a selection of bronzes from the time of the Cōḻa dynasty (9th-13th centuries), as well as works by artists of the Madras Art Movement from the second half of the 20th century. With the cross-caste Bhakti mysticism of the Middle Ages, the "Dravidian Movement" of the 20th century or the struggle of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka, which lasted until 2009, social aspects of cultural history are also illuminated.

Love and War, Akam and Puṟam

The Tamil language is a language of poetry. It has been spoken for over 3,000 years and conveys the culture and values of the Tamil people. Poets have always been held in high esteem and considered moral authorities. They joined together in so-called Caṅkams and created literature that is still influential today and unites the speakers of Tamil beyond states, castes and religions. This early poetry in particular knew two main genres of artistic expression: akam and puṟam. Akam means the internal, the personal, that which is about love; puṟam, on the other hand, is the external, the public, that which is about war. These two sides are present throughout the exhibition - in the stories told as well as in the exhibits on display. Tiṇai also appear again and again, referencing "inner landscapes" and emotions associated with them in poetry, art, and pop culture with images from the landscapes of southern India.

Religious diversity

The exhibition also allows visitors to experience the great religious diversity that exists in southern India. In addition to elegant statues from Cōḻa temples, a village shrine to the god Aiyanar, and the construction of colorful Kolu figures, historically significant objects from the heyday of Buddhism and Jainism are also on display. Muslim and Christian culture were also present in the south of India at an early stage and had a weighty influence on Tamil culture and art. For example, the Sufi order, established by Muslim traders, was very popular because of its intensive exchange with Hindu spirituality. Shrines over the graves of famous Sufis, known as dargahs, developed into transreligious pilgrimage sites for Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

Worldwide collaborations

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Georg Noack (Linden-Museum Stuttgart) and Dr. M. D. Muthukumaraswamy (National Folklore Support Centre Chennai). In addition, we have invited partners from different parts of the world to contribute their views on aspects of Tamil culture, art, history and religions. In different modules - poetry, social movements, art, popular culture, religion and everyday life - Of Love and War thus creates a dense description from diverse positions and perspectives. We also owe many of the objects shown in the exhibition to worldwide collaborations. In addition to exhibits from our collection, we are able to show you loans from the Museum Rietberg Zurich, the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques Guimet in Paris, the Museum für Asiatische Kunst Berlin and the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen. Also included in the exhibition are ancient inscriptions, manuscripts and prints from the Leiden University Library, the Rojah Mutthiah Research Library Chennai, the archive of the Francke Foundations Halle and the Württemberg State Library Stuttgart.

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Seated Buddha
Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, 7th century, granite, 102×59 cm, copyright: Museum Rietberg Zürich, inv.-no. RVI 221, photo: Rainer Wolfsberger

This meditating seated Buddha comes from the port city of Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu’s most famed Buddhist monastic center. Nagapattinam
is considered to have been one of the last strongholds of Buddhism in South India, where Buddhist monasteries flourished through the height of Cōḻa rule before disappearing around the 16th century. Monasteries in Nagapattinam were embedded in maritime networks of Buddhism that connected the South Indian coast to neighbouring Sri Lanka and parts of East and South East Asia.


Cōḻa empire, c. 980, bronze, 66×20 cm, copyright: Linden-Museum Stuttgart, inv. no. SA 33610 L, acquired with funds from the Baden-Württemberg Central Fund, photo: Dominik Drasdow

Sītā is an incarnation of the goddess Lakṣmī and means “furrow”. She was ploughed out of the ground by her father Janaka during a sacrificial
ritual. In the epic Rāmāyaṇa, Sītā is the wife of the seventh Viṣṇu incarnation Rāma the model of marital fidelity and purity (although nowadays this model is often rebelled against). This masterpiece of Cōḻaperiod bronze art is attributed to the workshop of the Cōḻa queen Sembiyan Mahādev.


Śiva Naṭarāja
Cōḻa empire, c. 11–13th century, bronze, 117×80 cm, copyright: National Museum of Denmark, inv.-no. Da. 161, photo: John Lee

The temple town of Chidambaram is considered a centre for the worship of Śiva in the appearance of the divine dancer Naṭarāja. The Cōḻa king Vira Cōḻa is said to have had a vision of Śiva performing his cosmic dance near a shrine. He then had a golden shrine built for the Naṭarāja. From the collection of Peter Anker who served as governor of Tranquebar (Danish India, now Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu), from 1788–1806.


Cōḻa empire, South India, c. 12th century, bronze, 43×25×15 cm, copyright: Linden-Museum Stuttgart, inv.-no. SA 33588 L, acquired with funds from the Baden-Württemberg Central Fund, photo: Dominik Drasdow

The child Śaivite poet saint Campantar (c. 7th century CE) is one of the first three (the other two being Appar and Cuntarar) of the 63 Nāyaṉmārs, Tamil Śaivite bhakti saints who lived between the sixth and tenth centuries CE. Campantar’s hymns to Śiva were compiled into the first three volumes of canonical texts of Tamil Śaiva Siddhāntā, known as Tirumuṛai. Campantar as a three-year-old child was breast fed by none other than Pārvatī, the consort goddess of Śiva, when the child was crying in a Śiva temple. As a wise child he started composing hymns to Śiva. By the time he attained salva tion (Mukti) at the age of 16, he was believed to have composed more than 10 000 hymns, out of which 384 survive. Nampiyāṇṭār Nampi compiled them as Tēvāram in the 12th century. Singing of Tēvāram, after the daily rituals in Śiva temples, continues to be a vibrant practice today. The exquisite Cōḻa bronze of child poet Campantar stands testimony to the Tamil cultural value of celebrating youth and prodigies.


Śiva Candraśekhara
Tamil Nadu,13–14th century, bronze, 75.5×31×21.3 cm, copyright: Museum Rietberg Zürich, inv.-no. RVI506, photo: Rainer Wolfsberger

This bronze depicts Śiva as Candraśekhara or “lord crowned with the moon”. The moon in its crescent form can be seen perched atop the icon’s crown of dreadlocked hair. In two of his arms, Śiva holds a battle axe and an antelope. The antelope is traditionally associated in Hindu
iconography with the moon god. It also represents Śiva’s role as protector of the animal kingdom (Paśupati). This bronze was used as a processional image, as evidenced by the hooks on its base.


Vimāna of a Śiva Temple
South India, c. 14–16th century (?), bronze, height: 15 cm, private collection, photo: Dominik Drasdow

The bronze model of the roof over the sanctum sanctorum of a Śiva temple shows the dancing Naṭarāja with devotees and attendants. Also
depicted on other sides of this model are his wife Pārvatī and their son Gaṇapa.


Temple Portal
Madurai, 17th century, wood, metal, 161×69.5 cm, copyright: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst, inv.-no. I 9891, photo: Susanna Schulz

This wooden gateway probably originates from a temple and shows depictions of the Avatāras (descents) and manifestations of the god Viṣṇu
in reliefs framed by floral vines and birds. At the top of the frame is the auspicious Gaja Lakṣmī, i.e. Lakṣmī, the consort of Viṣṇu, accompanied by elephants.



South India, c. 13–14th century. granite, 107×72×36.5 cm, copyright: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst, inv.-no. I 1193, photo: Iris Papadopulos

This granite relief from medieval South India shows a Tīrthaṅkara (“ford maker”), i. e. a saviour and spiritual teacher of the Jains. The word Tīrthaṅkara refers to the founder of a “ford” that allows passage across the sea of infinite rebirths and deaths, the Saṃsāra. Jains believe that a Tīrthaṅkara is a person who has overcome the Saṃsāra himself and created a path for others to follow to salvation. Even though Jains, who were once widespread and influential in ancient Tamiḻakam, became a small minority from the time of the medieval Cōḻa dynasty (9–13th centuries) onwards, they continued to create impressive works of art. This Tīrthaṅkara sits in meditation posture on a throne underlaid with lotus petals. Behind him, on the right and left, are frond bearers who signify his dignified status, as does the three-tiered umbrella above his head.


Thanjavur Painting: Śiva Naṭarāja

Thanjavur district, 19th century, wood, wasli (or canvas?), paint, goldleaf, glass, paper, metal,7 6×60 cm, copyright: Museum Fünf KontinenteMunich, inv.-no. 87-308 529 R 309, photo: Nikolai Kästner

Thanjavur painting has a documented history dating back to c. 1600 CE. A popular art form today Thanjavur paintings are characterised by rich and vivid colors, simple iconic composition, glittering gold foils overlaid on delicate but extensive gesso work and inlaid glass beads and
pieces of precious gem.


Wood Carving
Tamil Nadu, 19th century, wood, each c. 73×36.5×14 cm, copyright: Museum Fünf Kontinente Munich, inv.-no. 87-308 567 R 329, photo:Nikolai Kästner

This carving originates in the hall of the palace of a Rāja of Chettinad (a region in the south of Tamil Nadu). It is an example of a whole series of similar wooden decorations from the interior of the palace that is now in the collection of the Museum Fünf Kontinente in Munich. The motif – a representation of the mythical yāḻi – is often found in very similar forms in Tamil temple architecture – often several metres high and made of granite.


Gold Pendant, depicting Siva and his consorts
Tamil Nadu, 19–20th century, Gold, rubies, rock crystal, 10×5.5×3 cm, copyright: Linden-Museum Stuttgart, inv.-no. SA 35788, photo: Dominik Drasdow

It is a commonplace practice in Tamil Nadu to wear a gold pendant with a God of choice intricately carved. Both men and women wear these pendants on long gold chains in such a way that the god of their choice is always near their heart.


Vidhyashankar Sthapathi: "Tirumaḻisai Āḻvār"
Sculpture by the artist Vidhyashankar Sthapathi, Kumbakonam, 1981, coppersheet, bronze, iron, 92.8×43×21 cm, copyright: Linden-MuseumStuttgart, inv.-no. SA 07007, photo: Dominik Drasdow

Vidhyashankar Sthapathy’s depiction of Tirumaḻisai Āḻvār (believed to have lived between 4203 BCE and 297 CE), one of the twelve Vaiṣṇa
vite bhakti poet saints, combines traditional iconography with the contemporary metal etching techniques to bring out the grace and reverence
the bearers of Srivaiṣṇava tradition hold for Tirumaḻisai Āḻvār. The word āḻvār means “one who dives deep into the ocean of the countless
attributes of Viṣṇu”. Born in the small village Tirumaḻisai, the poet saint declared himself to be beyond all castes. His devotion to Viṣṇu was so deep and his songs so profound that – as the legend goes – Viṣṇu would roll up his snake bed and walk along with Tirumaḻisai Āḻvār  whenever he was asked to do so by him.


S. G. Vasudev: She and Bird
Painting by the artist S. G. Vasudev, Chennai and Bangalore, c. 2004, oil on canvas, 96×96 cm, private collection, photo: Ernst Kölnsperger

S. G. Vasudev’s inspiration for his paintings comes from literary sources, poetry, Indian mythologies, legends and folklore. Vasudev’s more
recent works often deal with real and fictional experiences of the “self” and bear titles such as “Humanscapes”, “Earthscapes”, “Theatre of Life” or “He and She”. This painting entitled “She and Bird” also comes from this creative phase.


P. S. Nandhan: Gaṇapati
Sculpture by the artist P. S. Nandhan (*1940), Chennai, 2016, bronze, 45×15×12.5 cm, copyright: Linden-Museum Stuttgart, inv.-no. SA07150 L, acquired with funds from the Baden-Württemberg Central Fund, photo: Dominik Drasdow

This modernist sculpture of the elephant god Gaṇapati (Ganeśa) is by the artist P. S. Nandhan, who belongs to the Madras Art Movement.
Nandhan‘s sculptures work through the play of presence and absence and are characterised by strong lines. As a sculptor and painter, P. S. Nandhan has influenced many young artists and, according to Indian art critics, his work in particular is an important key to understanding the entire Madras Art Movement. Gaṇapati means lord (pati) of the multitudes (gaṇa, the army of semidivine beings belonging to Śiva).


Kanchipuram- Sāṛī for Festive Occasions
Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, 2018, silk, goldthread, c. 120.5×660 cm, copyright: Linden-Museum Stuttgart, inv.-no. SA 35788, photo: Dominik Drasdow

Sāṛīs like this one, made in Kanchipuram, a city known for the production of silk sāṛīs, are worn on festive occasions and weddings. Kanchipuram sāṛīs with interwoven gold threads (zari) are cherished as wedding sāṛīs and worn on other festive occasions all over India.


During the festival of the “Nine Nights of the Goddess” (Navarāttiri), celebrated in October, many people in Tamil Nadu set up stair-shaped pedestals in their houses on which a colourful selection of papier-mâché figures are displayed. Various deities may be represented, but also wedding scenes, Thanjavur dolls reminiscent of toys and much more. During the festival, many towns and shopping centres hold kolu markets where artisans offer their handmade figures to families that want to add a few more of them to their collection every year. Department stores also offer a variety of brightly coloured figures each season. The figurines shown here were acquired for the Linden-Museum from several different artisans at a fair in Chennai in October 2019.

Daśāvatāra – the Āvatāras of Viṣnu
Matsya (thefish), Kurma (the turtle), Varāha (the boar),Narasiṃha (the man-lion),Vamana (the dwarf), araśurāma (a warriorsage, literally“Rāma with the axe”), Rāma (the hero of the Rāmāyaṇa), Kṛṣṇa, Balarāma(Kṛṣṇa’s brother), Kalki or Hayagrīva (the expected, horse-headed tenth Āvatār).
Papermache, paint, each approx. 32×13.5×10 cm, copyright: Linden-Museum Stuttgart, inv.-no. SA 07166 a–j, acquired from several different artisans at a fair in Chennai in October 2019, photo: Dominik Drasdow