Artisans Rathakrishnan and son Srinivasan have their magnificent creations on display.

“O Lord of all gods

Teach me in my dreams

How to carry out all the work

I have in my mind…”

- Swamimalai bronze craftsperson’s prayer

Bronze icon maker L. Rathakrishnan and his son, Srinivasan, recite these lines from Agni Purana at the beginning of every creative journey, invoking the blessings of the very gods whom they craft. Out of wax, clay and molten panchaloha; out of philosophy, mythology and shastric injunction - and with their skilled hands.

Magnificent creations

'Surrounded by their magnificent creations which include pristine Chola Parvatis, a 6 ft tall Nataraja in anandha thandava, a 5 ft sitting Saraswati, Siva Dakshinamurti under a lovely spreading tree, and Rathakrishnan’s latest creation, a sitting Aiyappa.

The shilpi guru and his son speak of the select artefacts from Tamil Nadu, which are part of the exhibition organised by Srushti, an NGO Welfare Organisation that markets the work of the State’s artisans. They also speak of their vocation, which goes back to Pallava times. Though its sire-perdue technique can be traced back to the urbane dancing girl of Mohenjodaro.

“All our bronze icons are made of a single wax mould from a 7 ft Hanuman to a micro mini Nataraja,” says Srinivasan. While National awardee Rathakrishnan conceptualises and works on the balance of the figure, the nuanced iconographical details and iconometry that is about mudras etc., Srinivasan is the mould specialist.

According to Srinivasan, “Making a mould not only requires precision but also a thorough knowledge of mythology and shastric details of proportion since the complete ‘murti’ (statue) is made at this state and cannot be changed later. The Iyappa mould was made with the help of six to seven artisans and is an exact replica of the original icon at the Iyappa temple in Kerala, though at 4 ft, it is twice the size of the original ‘mula murthi’. He sits in the dhyana pose of Kundalini yoga in the ‘chinh’ mudra. Once the wax mould is completed it is covered in three layers of clay and left to dry. Once dry, the mould is heated and the wax released through a channel at the bottom. The clay mould is now preheated on the fire after which molten panchaloha is poured in and left to set”.

Rathakrishnan adds, “After 3-4 days, we break the clay mould and the panchaloha murthi appears. The thick outer layer of bronze is then chiselled and the smoothing and filing are done by traditional techniques. While chiselling, I also do the carving, shaping, engraving and naquash work.” The face and its fine detailing of features and expression are done at this point. The last ritual is ‘nethra puja’ or ‘opening of the eyes’. The icon, in this case, Iyappa, is now ready. It will leave for California soon to be installed at a temple there. Apart from the temples of South India, those in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and U.S. also have icons made by Rathakrishnan.

The shilpi guru’s 50 years of experience and finesse can be seen at the Tamil Nadu Crafts Exhibition in a magnificent collection that includes Shiva, Nataraja, Saraswathi, Lakshmi, Parvati and Ganesha.

Each is an ode to perfection, fluid lines and spiritualism. A rare bronze piece at the exhibition is a chandelier made out of yaallis and dancing figures.

Also on display are outstanding wood craft pieces from Tamil Nadu: Huge vertical entrance panels of Dashavatara painted in mellow colours, panels rich with yaalis and auspicious parrots, wall hangings and beautifully finished bird forms. There are also a 5 ft dancing Siva with eight hands in a ‘tandav’ pose and an outstanding Ganesha. .

Beautiful Thanjavur art pieces are also on show. Here, too, god is present in the detail: of Sarfoji and his rani’s garments and jewellery, in the beautiful portraits of Marhatha aristocracy and the mellow colours of Radha and Krishna frames. Some of the Thanjavur pieces are rare and a 100-year’s old.

The Tamil Nadu Crafts Exhibition is on till August 31 at Srushti, Sudarshan Building, Ground Floor (Opp Hotel Park Sheraton), 86 Chamiers Road, Alwarpet, Chennai-18.