Gods of bronze

On view At Poompuhar’s ‘Sirpangal,’ the marvellous icons were a blend of harmony and beauty.

Updated - May 18, 2016 07:56 am IST

Published - February 13, 2014 06:13 pm IST - Chennai

Bronze icons displayed at Sankara hall, Alwarpet in Chennai on Wednesday. Photo: B.Jothi Ramalingam

Bronze icons displayed at Sankara hall, Alwarpet in Chennai on Wednesday. Photo: B.Jothi Ramalingam

Poompuhar’s ‘Sirpangal’ presents bronze iconography at its sublime best. The specially created icons seem imbued with a sense of perfect movement and yogic stillness, blending harmony and beauty in mien and form, while every mudra, expression and stance unfolds the rich tapestry of a civilization which has spirituality at its core.

Each perfectly executed icon, from 72” Vishnu Anantasayanam and Lakshmi to the 10” Dasavatar figures, is a reflection of a profound philosophy revealed through the textured mythology of the gods and goddesses, while the forms connect to the first anthropomorphic images of the gods created more than 2,000 years ago. Little wonder then, that the act of creating icons begins with the Swamimalai artisans’ ancient prayer to the very gods he helps to create:

“O Lord of Lords

Teach me in my dreams

How to carry out all the work I have in my heart” (Agni Purana)

The stunning images were on display at Sankara Hall, where ‘Sirpangal’ opened recently. A magnificent 6 ft Ranganathan resting on the coils of Ananthanag with Lakshmi coming out of Vishnu’s nabhi. A 4-ft tall Rishabh, which has a beautiful face and a hair style typical of the Rajaraja Chola era, with a graceful Parvati by his side.

Nataraja in cosmic dance, etching out the basic philosophical tenets of the unending cycle of birth and death. The many moods and facets of Ganesha. Beautifully proportioned 2-ft tall Rama, Sita, Lakshman, and Hanuman, perfection in every line and curve.

A 6ft tall Lakshmi, resplendent on a lotus flower and a glowing Belur Krishna. All this and much more can be seen, along with smaller icons, such as the 4ft tall rosewood, Nataraja, Ganesha and Radha-Krishna.

Master artisan and State awardee Sambandamurthy of Swamimalai took a year to complete his Anantashayin masterpiece. He says, “I worked on one tonne of metal and with 10 artisans. This Anantashayin is slightly different from the one at Srirangam (temple), since Vishnu here is in a slight sitting up pose and is not in a totally reclining posture.”

Process of creation

He explains in detail the process of creation by the cire per due or lost wax method, which goes back 5,000 years to the Indus Valley’s ‘Mohenjodaro girl’. “Every stage is done by trained artisan specialists, beginning with the creation of the wax model that has every minute detail in place. The wax model is then coated and layered with Kaveri clay. After the clay dries, the mould is heated and the wax released through channels already in place. The hollowed clay mould is now ready to receive molten panchaloha metal, which is poured through the channels that completely fills the clay figure. After a few days, when the metal has set, the clay mould is broken and the final detailing, etching and engraving is done. “I do the total supervision and direction of the process as well as the final chipping, engraving, expressions – and finally the ‘opening of the eyes’. But in its essence iconography is team work”.

Artisan Anantha Murthy, who has created the compelling ‘Daksha Yagna,’ agrees. “I wanted to create something rare,” he says, which was a challenge that started him on his creative journey. The Daksha icon took him six months to make, with its incredible detailing. A team of more than six artisans worked at it. Since every icon is created in a different specially prepared wax and clay, every Swamimalai icon is uniquely different.

‘Sirpangal’ also has on display, the award winning papier-mâché artisan Jagdeeshwaran’s bright array of papier-mâché gods and goddesses, animal and bird forms. Also on view are soft stone, marble and durgi stone artefacts. Painted wood panels, rich with mythological imagery are also on offer.

‘Sirpangal’ is on at Sri Sankara Hall, TTK Road, Teynampet, from February 18 to 20.

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