Shilp guru L. Rathakrishnan and Raja Sekharan are practitioners of the age-old tradition of metal and stone craft. While Rathakrishnan’s 7ft Sivakami and superbly crafted Nataraja icons lend grace to temples in New York, Boston and Malaysia, Raja Sekharan’s stone sculptures adorn the corbels of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and the Denmark Hall in the UK.
Both perpetuate the paramparik viswakarma tradition having learnt the art from their fathers and family elders. Both Rathakrishnan and Raja Sekharan have fostered the art by training young aspirants, thus showcasing their passion for and commitment to their vocation. Radhakrishnan and Rajasekaran innovate and even fuse different streams of sculptural philosophy to create their own vision. Excerpts from an interview:
You have created stunning pieces, be they figurines of gods and goddesses or yaali placed at the St. George Chapel in Windsor Castle or icons found in temples the world over? What has your journey been like?
LR: I had formal training under my guru Ramasamy Sthapathi of Swamimalai. He exposed me to traditional details and technical intricacies when it came to bronze sculptures. I am grateful to the government for bestowing the honour ‘Shilp guru’ on me.
RS: I come from a family of traditional sthapathis and was exposed to stone craft early in life. I did my BSc in Sculpture from the Mahabalipuram School of Sculpture and Architecture and later opened my own stone craft unit in Bangalore. After attending the Stone Tech Workshop organised by the Crafts Council of India, I was chosen to undergo training at City and Guilds of the London Art School. In an open competition, my yaali was chosen to replace a broken gargoyle in the St. George’s Chapel. It was a fulfilling moment for me.
Where else is your work displayed?
LR: I have supplied many vigrahas to temples as well as private collections in Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and in many place in Tamil Nadu. My bronze icons are installed in temples in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the U.K. and Sri Lanka, I recently made a 2½ ft Murugan idol for a temple in Malaysia.
RS: I have crafted 4-6 feet tall Ganesha, Rama and lingams for temples in Bangalore, Hassan and Belgaum. The Buddha head which I made is displayed in the UK, and I’ve created Buddha in a sitting posture, snakes and a lady for Hamish Horsely’s studio in London. My suggestions on stone craft have been incorporated at the Imperial War Museum and at the Dalai Lama’s Peace garden.
Have you done any fusion work?
LR: I work within the parameters of Sastra, though I do experiment with designs such as the Hoysala style of ornamentation. Some years ago, I made a 10-tier 25-ft high brass lamp for a temple near Vellore. I researched books and studied Sanskrit slokas to arrive at the final image. For every segment of the lamp, I crafted a round ornamental plate with brass agal lamps attached to the edge. It is perhaps the tallest lamp in India. I have also handcrafted a 6 tonne horse in panchaloha.
RS: My yaali at Windsor Castle is a fusion of traditions – Indian and British. I do work within Sastric norms, but try to lend a contemporary slant. Like I did for a work commissioned in Chandigarh. I make jaali windows for interiors, lotus shaped bird baths with stone birds for gardens and so on.
There seems to be a decline in the numbers of metal and stone craft artisans. You are doing you bit by training aspirants. But how does the future of these art forms look like?
LR: I have trained 65 artisans at my unit-cum-workshop in Erode under Government approval. Many have their own units now. I strongly feel that despite falling numbers, metal and bronze crafts will survive as long as our culture lives on. However, design development is necessary for secular, utilitarian metal craft. Contemporary tastes and needs have to be taken into account while designing pieces.
RS: I agree. I train students from all over the world, including the U.K. They stay at my workshop and teaching is done in the gurukulam style. I must add that my knowledge of sculpture widened after I experienced the Western sculpture techniques. I believe that only by training more and more aspirants will this craft grow and diversify into other areas such as architecture, landscaping and gardens.
(L. Rathakrishnan’s sculptures are available at Srushti, Sudarshan Building, (GF), Opposite Hotel Park Sheraton, 86, Chamiers Road, Alwarpet.)