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Breathing life into stone

FOR KAILASAN, 42, and his family, the gods have helped them earn their daily bread for years. A sculptor, Kailasan has earned a reputation for his brilliant craftsmanship and his skill in carving out images of gods from granite. He often dabbles in metal and wood, but it is always shaping them into images of gods and goddesses.

Kailasan was trained in this art by his father Subhramanian and his grandfather Kunju. The Travancore and Cochin Devaswom Boards have acknowledged Kailasan as their `official' sculptor, while his forefathers were sculptors to the royal families of these States.

The deity and the `sreekovil' of the Uthara Guruvayoor Temple in New Delhi; the `panchaloha' (alloy of five metals) idol of the Lord Siva Temple at Airanikkulam, Mala, and the sanctum sanctorum of the famous Puthenkavu Bhagawathy Temple, Elavoor are some of the important works by Kailasan.

"It takes at least two months to complete a sculpture, and of course, it varies on the size of the idol', says the sculptor.

The measurement of the idols is based on `yavam' (a grain of corn), an old, linear mathematical calculation. One foot equals 79 to 80 `yavam.' He usually values a finished idol in granite at Rs. 30 per `yavam.' Most of the work is done at the site of the temple itself. The raw granite is brought from quarries in Ambasamudram, Tamil Nadu, and then carved out here.

The work shed adjoining his house at Brahmamangalam is a beehive of activity. Along with his paternal uncles, Narayanan and Krishnan, also his mentors there are at present 23 sculptors engaged in making idols here.

Believed to have congregated at Vaikom and nearby villages, the `Acharis', or the traditional craftsmen, are said to have migrated from Tamil Nadu. Their ancestors had reached here 800 years ago to assist in the construction of the famous Mahadeva Temple at Vaikom. Another place where the `acharis' have settled down in large numbers is Chengannur.

For reference in traditional architecture and sculpture they depend on authoritative treatises like the Dhyanaslokam, Thanthrasamuchayam' etc. "The instructions of the renowned astrologer, Kanippayyoor Sankaran Namboothiri are also taken into account," informs Kailasan, who teaches at the local Vocational Higher Secondary School.

After conducting a `devaprasnam' or `ashtamangalya prasnam' they entrust Kailasan with the rituals like `dwaja prathishta' (consecration of flag mast), `sreekovil punarudharanam' (renovation of the sanctum sanctorum) etc. It has been a job that his family has been doing for many years now.


Kailasan has also worked wonders with wood also. Sculptures in teak, rosewood etc. of goddess Kali, carved by him at the Paramekkavu Temple, Thrissur, is a fine example of his astute craftsmanship. The idol completed 10 years ago is considered to be the second largest one in the State. "Idols carved out from granite or black stone still remains my passion. Apart from gods and goddesses I have also done the interior work for famous hotels all over the country, especially using granite," says Kailasan.

He is at present engaged in the renovation of the Ananthapura Temple, Kumbala, Kasaragod. "This work is certainly something that is different. It has to be performed under strict traditional rituals. The idol is to be built in the `Kadusarkkara Yogam,' an ancient architectural style. Raw medicinal herbs are ground and purified before being mixed with the sand used in the making of the idol. The purification process takes around 90 days," explains Kailasan. The idol of Lord Vishnu, in Ananthasayanam, is nearing completion.

"An in depth study of traditional architecture is must for successful sculptor," opines Kailasan. The idol of Kirathamoorthy made by him is ready for consecration. Weighing 250 kg, the idol stands five feet in height. This masterpiece will soon find its appropriate place at the Alangad Temple, Ernakulam district. Kailasan also did the renovation of renowned Naga temple at Ameda, Thripunithura.

Kailasan does not remember the number of idols he has carved by now. It can number to many hundreds. His family, `Kandathil' has been in this field for the last nine generations. This tradition has been continuing with his 12-year-old son Anoop, also moving into the field of sculpting. "Sculptors in the State are a neglected lot. This is not the case with those in Andhra and Tamil Nadu, where they are a revered lot. Many sculptors here have either become extinct or have deserted the profession. The State is yet to introduce a pension scheme for sculptors, Kailasan concludes.


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