Demand for the famous panchaloha idols of Swamimalai town near here is on the rise as more and more NRIs in U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, South Africa, Switzerland, Malaysia and Thailand are funding construction of an increasing number of temples in these countries.

Besides demand from Tamils abroad, who have been building temples in large numbers and in the U.S., where there are a huge number of temples, seven are being built in London, one in Toronto and another in France, says master craftsman and director of Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation, Sri Kanda Stapathy.

He said the Festival of India, held during the tenure of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, popularised the art of making these idols, ranging in size from six inches to 12 feet.

Foreigners at the festival were struck by the handcrafted designs and the way in which they were made. “From that point, there has been demand,” he said.

He said though demand was high and there was good revenue, production is limited as one has to adhere to quality. “If the products are of good quality, they will stand forever and marketing it is easy,” he said, adding that 60 per cent of the products are exported.

Mr. Sri Kanda said the art of making these idols by stapathis (sculptors) as per Shilpa Sastras prevailed from Chola period between the 9th to 13th centuries.

After construction of the famous Bragadeeswarar temple, also known as the Big Temple at Thanjavur, which is set for the millenium fete, King Raja Raja Chola utilised their services to build Darasuram temple in Swamimalai, following which they settled there due to abundance of rich alluvial soil, he said.

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