The magic of shilp guru Rathakrishnan’s artistry comes alive in his imposing Nataraja icons.
The Nataraja icon has been variously described as “the most perfect representation of rhythmic movement in art,” “a visual sermon expounding compassion and universal power” and as portraying the “very essence of the ongoing unending cycle of life, death and rebirth.”
In his superbly crafted collection of Natarajas now on view at an exhibition, shilp guru L. Rathakrishnan captures the anatomical perfection of the Chola icon, its total balance and supreme grace. The exhibition showcases an imposing body of his life’s work spanning 35 years which includes many masterpieces – seven ft and six ft Natarajas and a few five ft representations, all poised with one leg raised to convey the ongoing vigour of life and the other crushing the dwarf of ignorance under foot.
“The concept of Nataraja is synonymous with harmony,” say Rathakrishnan and master artisan Gunashekharan as they explain the process of crafting the imposing 7-ft tall Nataraja. Both have studied the Agamasastras in depth. “The idol took us nearly 10 months to make with seven – eight artisans helping out.”
Gunasekharan made the wax model under the supervision of the shilp guru. “The wax is made using rosin powder, beeswax and gingelly oil, a traditional mix. Then I create the wax Nataraja model with the detailing. All this is done entirely by hand. Once the model is ready, it is tested for balance. Then the mould is made. This is done by placing the model on a platform and applying a coat of alluvial soil which takes perfect impressions of the wax image.”
Rathakrishnan continues, “Once the coating is done and sun-dried, we tie the clay mould with iron wires and heat it to remove the wax. The heating is done over an open wood fire and the wax is slowly removed.”
For a figure of such proportions, panchaloha is prepared in a crucible. Simultaneously, the now hollow clay mould is heated to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, after which it is placed head down for the molten metal to be poured in. “The metal pouring is a continuous process with number of people helping out. The metal is ow allowed to set for a week. Then the wires are removed and the icon is revealed.” Finally, chiselling and filing of the facial features are done before cleaning up and polishing.
The Crafts Fair has 20 Chola style Natarajas, including a six-ft eight-armed Nataraja, a four and a half ft Siva doing the ‘kaalmari tandavam’, ‘Chatura tandavam,’ and Nataraja in his last 108 pose -- dancing upside down in the ‘Ganga Avaraharana’ posture.
Also on display are other bronzes such as Radha-Krishna, Mahavishnu, Ganesha, Parvati, Saraswati and Lakshmi. Special wood cuts and icons, and Tanjore art can also be seen. The Crafts Fair, organised by Srishti, Tamilnadu Handicraft Artisan’s Welfare Association, is on view till July 31, at Srishti, Sudarshan Building, (Ground Floor), opposite Hotel Park Sheraton, 86, Chamiers Road, Alwarpet.