With no government subsidies and no opportunity to showcase their talents these sculptors find it tough

On the left hand side corner near Pasumalai on Tirupparankundram main road one can hardly miss the sculptors at work chiselling idols of gods and goddesses or engaged in carving names on marbles to be laid on walls or graves.

Stone sculpting or carving, a hereditary craft which is pursued by the descendants of sculptors coupled with their creative spirit has seen emergence of idols of surpassing beauty that adorn hundreds of temples, big and small across the city and villages.

Rough black stones are carved to make symmetrically balanced torsos, slim waists and exquisitely chiselled limbs, the stapathis imbue the images mixing beauty with divinity and swathe the devotee. Auspicious Vinayagar, the all powerful Kali Amman, Murugan and his Peacock, subaltern deities of Karuppasamy and Ayyanar form major part of the statues carved by the Madurai sculptors.

Sculptures being part of visual medium are also effective in communication, and nonetheless they also possess aesthetic value. The sculptors (stapathis) belong to the Viswakarma community and due to their close association with the divine work of making idols of gods, these craftsmen were greatly respected in the past.

In Madurai, stone sculptors are found at Pasumalai, South Gate and Tirupparankundram. Once seen largely as a traditional craft mainly done by members belonging to the Vishwakarma community, it has now diversified and due to commercialization and interest in this creative art members from other castes are getting trained.

A. Senthil Kumar, state president, Tamil Nadu Viswakarma Ilaignar Peravai said that sculptors in Madurai numbering around 3,000 are in a dire strait though it has opened the gates for others but opportunities and the traditional forms of making sculptures has seen a decline.

They are facing a danger of displacement as the land where they were having their units at Pasumalai could soon turn into a commercial complex. He opined that the sculptors have been living here for 50 years and once displaced it would not only affect them but would blow a death knell to the art.

There are no subsidies from the government to promote this art and the association claimed that they do not even have a pattarai (workshop) of their own as all of them have their units in rented places.

Karu Pachamuthu Stapathi, Madurai, said that quarrying of stones by private parties has also spelt doom for them as they no more get the appropriate stones that they need for making statues. Selecting stones are indeed a phenomenal one as there are guidelines for practising the art; great amount of indigenous knowledge goes into it including rules on iconometry, and iconography.

Separate black stones are used for gods and goddesses as per shilpi sastra and agama rules.

The association also placed a request that since the art form has been modernized to great extent usage of modern machinery subsidies could be granted to procure modern cutting tools.

They also demanded a welfare board to be established by the State. Since there is a certain amount of permanency attached to the end product, fresh orders are the only means to meet their ends, it is not the statues but the stone plaques and name and address carving being done for houses in stones which is guaranteeing income.

They demanded that each temple coming under Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department shall appoint a member from the community to take care of the restoration and related works.

There is only one Government College of Architecture and Sculpture in Mahabalipuram, they should establish one more in a place like Madurai which is indeed the temple city.

R. Rajendran(40) of Sri Divyalakshmi Sirpa Kalaikoodam says that his family which has been traditionally involved in the work, have sculpted small forms of gods and goddesses for Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple and Koodal Azhagar Perumal Temple.

Among his figurines, he talks proudly about a 12.5 feet idol of goddess Kali which he had sent to Kolkata.

Veerapandiya Kattabomman statue in Madurai they claimed were made by one of their ancestors, Kandan Asari, many small idols of gods and goddesses in Koodal Azhagar temple and Madanagopalaswamy Temple were made by them. The sculptors have exported some of their products to Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa.

Various forms of grinding stones, Ammi Kal, Kozhavi Kal, Aatu Kal, Ural, Enthiram have all been replaced by mixer, grinder so not many are now engaged in making grinding stones either, they said. They also complained that the Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation (Poompuhar) which was set up in Swamimalai is also not procuring crafts from them.

Labour was the prime form of capital for them as for ages they have been under the patronage of kings and it was during British rule, the royal patronage they received in and around the temple towns dwindled.

In the recent times, there has been no substantial project of architectural marvel which could provide them opportunity; it could either be restoration works of old temples or works to make small gods in villages that can keep them busy.

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