As the World Classical Tamil Conference events unfolded with pomp in the city, a quiet gathering at the Sharadambal temple in Race Course took a trip through the history of Tamil art and architecture.
Their guide was Vijay Kumar. Together, they travelled back to the reign of the Cholas and Pallavas that saw the creation of arguably some of the world's finest sculptures.
Vijay Kumar's lecture was organized by the Vanavarayar Foundation and supported by the Crafts Council of Tamil Nadu, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, along with the Chitrakala Academy and the Coimbatore Art Foundation.
Armed with slides, Vijay Kumar, an art enthusiast, said his aim was to raise awareness on these priceless works of art, especially amongst the younger generation. "The greatest insult is forgetting them and allowing them to sink into obscurity," he said. That is the reason he started his blog www.poetryinstone.in
The bi-lingual blog (English and Tamil) is a repository of information and pictures related to heritage sites, along with informed comments of historians and other experts in the subject. Vijay Kumar believes that the cyber world is the best way to spread the word amongst the youth.
Being young and very much of the modern world, (he holds a corporate job in Singapore), Vijay Kumar has no difficulty using technology to reach out to the young. That is the reason he says, he is concentrating on building up his blog, rather than writing a book.
“Writing is largely to satisfy one's ego,” he says and adds that he is in a hurry to raise the awareness about Indian art and sculpture amongst the youth and blogging is the best way to do that.
The sculptures of the Cholas and the Pallavas are a particular passion with Vijay Kumar. His love affair with this period of history began early. Like many others, he grew up with the unforgettable Ponniyin Selvan and Sivagamiyin Sabatham. Not just those, the Amar Chitra Kathas were also a source of inspiration, he says.
The stories we have all read or heard, and those we have not, are all there, wrought in stone, says Vijay Kumar. He shows pictures he and fellow enthusiasts have taken of temples, gods, goddesses and creatures great and small: Arjuna and Shiva out on a hunt have it out as they target the same prey, a woman warrior stands in battle-readiness, complete with a six-pack abs; a terrified baby Murugan jumps out of his mother's arms into those of an attendant, seeing his father Shiva in a rage…
Vijay Kumar points out the intricate details so finely chiselled in stone - the dreadlocks of the sage, the seductive gaze of a courtesan, the bhakti in the face of a devotee, etc.
Every pillar, wall, courtyard and roof has a story to tell. It is a documentation of the people, practices and politics of the time.
Yet, despairs Vijay Kumar, “We mutely allow these priceless records to be defaced. If we do not act now, they are lost forever.” Already, so much has vanished with the wear and tear of time. The callousness of the public and at times the authorities have not helped either.
But, Vijay Kumar and his team are not waiting around to see that happen.They want to mobilize the people into doing something. Through the blog, they hope to build up a digital data base of the sculptures in the country. Vijay Kumar encourages people to send him pictures and details of any temple/architecture they may have seen.
“It has to be an interactive initiative that is community centric” he says. “Things are in a pathetic state. Works of art and architecture dating back thousands of years are being vandalised even as we speak.” He tells of panels of sculpture that have been painted over. Unless people feel proud of their heritage, there will be no heritage left, he adds.
The anonymous sculptors poured their heart into creating such stunning works. No one knows their names. Nowhere in the temples are their names inscribed. Nor are they referred to in any history books. But, they did have patronage and kings and lords sought them out and encouraged them to create their masterpieces. We need to do the same today, said Vijay Kumar.
As if to begin doing so, the Vanavarayar Foundation had invited some sculptors that evening to the lecture.
And, one of them spoke. It was a humbling experience to listen to one who came from a long line of sculptors. He spoke, diffidently at first, of his art, sung the praises of his predecessors who created such beauty, and humbly requested that in order to keep the art alive, there had to be patronage and encouragement. Otherwise, sculpting would become a lost art.