Art in a grain of rice

The intricately carved icon of Ganesha flanked by Lakshmi and Saraswathi made on sandalwood. Photo: Special arrangement  

Master artisan and National awardee T.K. Bharani seems to bring to life the poetic imagery of ‘seeing the world in a grain of sand’ in his micro-mini carving and sculpting on single grains of rice and on a sandalwood canvas sized 1 mm. On sandalwood frames less than 6”, unfold images and stories of gods and goddesses.

Think of a sculpted Parvati sandalwood mandap, hung with mini thombais, just one and a half inches high, on a half-inch sandalwood space, or a 2” Siva-Parvati seated on a beautifully engraved mandapam bordered with elephants, hamsas and apsaras. A 6” Vishnu dances in yogic abandon, while Ganesha in a floral dhoti sits majestically in a rath driven by four thumbnail-sized mushikas. From Ganesha’s knotted sacred thread to the bemused expressions of the mushikas to the tiny half-mm lotuses, Bharani’s pieces are mesmerising.

Watching T.K. Bharani, who works without a magnifying glass, , craft a two and a half inch Ganesha plucking fruit from a tree is an amazing experience. His deftly sculpted 2 mm dancing mushika is also stunning.

A hacksaw blade, umbrella ends, and thin cycle spokes are the tools he uses to fashion the six mushikas. He then moves on to cutting out the micro-mini leaves for the tree, which he has drawn on thinsandalwood sheets. Once cut, each leaf is stuck on the branches of the tree. The entire tableau has taken him two months to create.

“I come from the Vishwakarma family of sandalwood carvers,” says Bharani. “Miniature carving is my grandfather’s innovation. In fact, he began by carving on a single grain of rice. My father, who did the same, won the National Award. I began to carve both on rice grains and sandalwood by watching him at work. In fact, my 12” Siva Purana piece in the shape of a vasanta mandapam earned me the National Award.

Bharani’s other extraordinary pieces include a beautifully executed 12” sandalwood replica of Santhome Church with every architectural element detailed minutely. It was gifted to the Pope and is housed in the Vatican. Many pieces such as Radha-Krishna in forest groves, Ganesha in various moods, and carvings of Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga are part of prized private collections.

“I follow ancient rituals,” says T.K. Bharani. “An auspicious day and time is chosen before I begin sketching on the sandalwood piece, after which the engraving is done. The ‘eye-opening’ ceremony is done at the last.” The last of the micro-mini sandalwood earners, Bharani sees this as an act of faith and a passion. As he puts down a finished ‘Ganesha plucking fruit’ piece, he picks up the next.

“There are problems,” says the master artisan. “Sandalwood is not easily available and is very expensive. To reach out to people with our craft, we need information about exhibitions and world-level competitions. Above all, I wish more people would come to know about the craft.”

Bharani can be contacted at 11, Kastur Bai Street, Thirumazhisai, Chennai. (Ph: 94446 57747/ 915003 5225)

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 12:08:59 PM |

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