Sewing needles rarely make good sculpting tools. However, in the nimble hands of goldsmith Ganesh Subramanian, the exception seems to prove the rule. The 37-year-old traditional metal worker specialises in miniature gold sculptures.

He turns tiny lumps of gold, each weighing less than 12 mg, into intricately carved figures of gods, goddesses and everyday objects. The showpiece of his skill is a working number lock, the dimensions of which can be measured only in nano units. Finding tools to creatively shape tiny pieces of metal to his artistic will proved to be an early impediment in his unusual line of work. Most of his creations required fine hammer and point work. He had to find chisels, hammers, mallets, and hand drills to suit the tiny dimensions of the gold nuggets he worked on.

Nano tools available in foreign markets were prohibitively expensive. Soon, he started refashioning needles into miniature-scale sculpting tools. A magnifying monocle fitted on his right eye, Ganesh starts a typical working day grinding the point of stitching needles to the shape of the tool he requires.

The shaped needle is then fitted to end of a handle, which he can comfortably grip. Soon, he is carving, filing, and sawing malleable gold into the shape he wants. He recently expended 600 needles and hundreds of hours of focussed labour to make a miniature figurine of ‘Mother India.’ In order to stress its tiny size, Ganesh stuck it on top of a mustard seed. His works of art can be appreciated only if viewed under a powerful magnifying glass. Ganesh says he has achieved his current skill level through 17 years of hard work, interspersed with more failures than successes. The head of the ruling family of erstwhile Travancore, Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, recently presented him a gold coin with the coat of arms of the royal house of Travancore etched on it, in recognition of his skills. The craftsman had fashioned a miniature of Sree Padmanabha, the deity of the Travancore royalty, for the head of the family.

Actor Mohanlal had contracted him to make a miniature gold figurine of Nataraja. Ganesh shuns alcohol and tobacco fearing that they would render his hands unsteady. He is into yoga to give him the mental and physical fitness his job requires of him.