He stands between a three-ft tall Natya Saraswathi plucking the strings of her veena and a serene Parvathi, both iconic examples of the Chola bronze sculpture tradition.
What is interesting to note is that the artisan M. Elangovan took only 40 days to sculpt each piece. He begins on an auspicious note by chanting slokas (chanted by Swamimalai sthapatis) and finishes with brushing and cleaning the icons. He adheres to Sastric principles and every piece is put through the fascinating process before finding a place in a temple sanctum sanctorum or a hotel or a home.
Says Elangovan, who is a Stet award winner, “I have been practising this art for over 30 years.” Pointing to a garnet hued piece, Elangovan continues, “This is a mixture of Sambrani, kungilium and wax honey. First, we heat kungilium and wax honey to make the wax. Then a mould is made which is coated with special mud and tied with binding wire. To the clay mould, we then blow holes or channels. Once the clay is dry, we put it through a fire to ensure that the wax melts and comes out from the holes. Meanwhile, a panchaloha mixture of silver, copper, lead, tin and zinc is melted in a crucible. The molten metal is then poured into the mould and heated. It is then cooled for about 10-15 days before the mould is broken and the icon is ready.”
The master craftsman works on Pallava, Chola and Hoysala style icons at Poompuhar’s Swamimalai unit, even as he oversees the work of 20 other artisans. His body of work, now on view at Poompuhar’s exhibition at C.P. Art Centre, comprises a 4-ft tall Nataraja as well as smaller images of Ganesa, Vishnu and Parvati.
Also on show are kuthuvilakkus, tombais, and P.C. Ghosh’s Orissa patchwork wall hangings, bedcovers, Mysore rosewood inlaid dining tables, chairs and coffee tables. Besides, one can pick up Etikopakka, Kondapalli and Chennapatna toys, enamel painted birds and palm leaf artefacts.
The Poompuhar Crafts Mela is on at C.P. Art Centre, Eldams Road, till May 29.