Event Orissa hosted its first International Sand Art Festival on the shores of Bay of Bengal. SHYAMHARI CHAKRA

B elieved to be the birth-place of the 700-years-old sand art and sand sculpture - Puri the pilgrims' paradise on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, is barely 30 kilometres far from the world famous heritage site of Konark where Orissa Government has been hosting its famed Konark festival of Indian classical dances in December every year for the past 22 years.

And this year, the hosts wisely hosted India's first-ever international sand art festival which coincided with the five-day dance festival and added a distinct dimension to the Konark festival apart from inviting a heavy footfall of tourists and art admirers.

The festival featured 30 sand sculptors from across India and abroad - Holland, Portugal, UK, Canada, Ghana and USA. There were just three woman sculptors - one each from Holland, USA and India. It further featured a competitive section among the Indian sculptors with a cash award of Rs. One lakh, Rs.50, 000 and Rs.25, 000 for the top three artists. The theme of the competition this year was cultural tourism and all competitors were asked to sculpt different works every day.

Although host state Orissa that had the largest contingent of participants and bagged all the three cash awards - all were claimed by the Puri-based artists - most of Orissa's artists failed to impress. Most of them sculpted replica of temples and thus their works lacked imagination. The saving grace of the Orissa's artists was, however, teenager Rajeswar Mohapatra, who sculpted five different popular tourists' destinations of Orissa which were historic or heritage sites as well.

Two of the Indian artists who won hearts of the spectators and connoisseurs, though not of the jury Nathu Garchar and Gowri MN who excelled in their craft and concept. The 55-year-old Garchar, a bank official from Gujarat's port city of Porbandar, elegantly portrayed the rich dance tradition of India. While he started his series with the enchanting Dandia folk dance tradition of his state, his last day's work was an ode to Orissa and Odissi dance. Garchar has developed a texture that adds a style signature to all his sculptures.

Similarly, Gowri from Mysore, the lone Indian woman sand artist in the festival and the youngest participant as well, highlighted the art and heritage of South India - the region she came from - Kathakali dance and the Hampi temple of her state - her sculpture on the final day depicted Bhagwad Gita showing Krishna and Arjun on a chariot. An under-graduate student of fine art whose passion is clay-modelling, her works spoke volumes of her promising future as a sand sculptor.

Of the lady invitees from abroad, septuagenarian Kali Bradford from USA - the oldest artist of the festival - sculpted universal brotherhood. She showed people representing the three continents of Asia, America and Africa travelling together on the back of a buffalo. Similarly, Remy Geerts, a young woman from Holland, sculpted the feminine Indian goddess of Yogini on which she has done research as an artist and a yoga teacher. Her husband from UK, Paul Hoggard is an environment conservation activist apart from being an artist and he preferred to portray a dead elephant to raise public concern over the future of the sacred and endangered animal.

Ghana's Bob Atisso, a professional sculptor, named his work as ‘Incredible India' - the slogan of India Tourism - and he sculpted the face of Mahatma Gandhi along side the face of an ordinary Indian woman suggesting the greatness the Father of the Nation and of the Indian woman.

The festival featured 30 sand sculptors from across India and abroad - Holland, Portugal, UK, Canada, Ghana and USA.