A 12ft tall carved rosewood door stands in all its magnificence, its frame covered with hundreds of beautifully delineated annapakshis bordered by florets and curving tendrils. The top panels frame carry superb depictions of Rama Pattabhishekam and Krishna Leela while from the canopy, Gandharvas and Yakshis shower benediction on visitors crossing the threshold!
This 120-year-old door is among the many items on view at an exhibition titled ‘A Peep into South India's Antiques’, which showcases classy furniture, architectural items, artefacts and decorative bric-a-brac spanning the past 250 years. Also on view are a 150-year-old, brilliantly carved rosewood compass cupboard, Victorian cupboards and sofa sets, swings and roll-top tables, Jacobean love seats, a French chiffonier and a dining table from the Connemara Collection whose lineage can be traced to the Buckingham Palace!
The collection has a wondrous 5ft by 3ft ruby studded Tanjore art Nataraja sabha done in mellow vegetable colours, featuring Nataraja flanked by Vishnu-Lakshmi and Bramha-Saraswati. In the frame are portraits of 63 Nayannars with their names inscribed. There are quite a few rare pieces on view, many reminders of the glorious days gone by.
For V. Balaji, connoisseur, collector and curator of the exhibition, the priceless pieces on display are as significant as those which have been restored or even re-created around an odd piece retrieved from the family basement. Says Balaji, "Not everyone can afford an antique. Our idea is that people should value the pieces they have. Each piece has a history attached to it. If a client gives us an old office table, we convert it into as a roll top; similarly, part of a broken down cupboard can be converted into a coffee table or a Victorian console with a missing leg can be restored to its original glory using hand techniques prevalent at that time while strictly adhering to the period features. Thus, we not only ensure the survival of our heritage but also that of our craftpersons’ superb skills.”
Two paramparik craftpersons at the exhibition site Raja and Marimuthu Archary are busy replicating a 150-year old annapakshi wall bracket. Raja has just finished making a template of the design from the original. Marimuthu translates the design on to paper, sticks it on the wooden block which is his canvas. Once the design is transferred, then begins the work of etching, scooping, carving and actually bringing the design to life. The tools used are several kolavi ulis of difference thicknesses, and a kotapuli hammer which gently propels the kolaviuli. Marimuthu hands over the finished piece to Raja who conceptualises the ‘bigger picture’ to create the restoration piece “Marimuthu is the carver and I am the creator of a product,” says Raja. “When I see any piece or part of any item, I should be able to visualise the whole and execute it. In this instance, the annapakshis are placed in artistic conjunction, exactly as in the original. This is followed by the final process of polishing and sealing. And you have a piece of history, restored and recreated, in you hands.”
‘A peep into South India’s Antiques’ is on view at Sri Vrikshalaya, 19/9, Balaji Nagar, 1st Street, Royapettah till June 20.