Durgi stone sculptors stare at a dying art

Darla Venkateswara Rao continues to sculpt at Durgi in spite of changing times.

Darla Venkateswara Rao continues to sculpt at Durgi in spite of changing times.

His hands move dexterously, chiselling away the rough edges as his gaze remains fixed on the under-creation statue resting on his lap. A few minutes later, he breathes out gently as fine dust flutters away and reveals a creation. It’s as if he has breathed life into it.

Timeless pieces

Darla Venkateswara Rao is working on a hot and muggy afternoon in his one-room shop on the main road at Durgi in Guntur district. One of the few master sculptors of Durgi stone craft, Mr. Rao continues to breathe life into the stone carvings. His works are many and expansive: idols of gods and goddesses, Buddha in meditative posture, a man and a woman in love, miniature carvings of animals and nature.

Mr. Rao belongs to a classical school of Durgi sculptors trained by master craftsmen belonging to the community of Viswa Brahmins, classified as BCs in A.P. They worship Viswakarma, the deity of creative power. Craftsmen believe they have inherited the craft of creating life images on stone.

Durgi stone carvings are timeless pieces carved from soft lime stone called Suddha Rai in local parlance, and are found in Durgi, Obulesunipalli and other parts in Macherla mandal. The lime stone is found under the earth’s surface and the stone is quarried using machines. The unique whitish gray stone is soft and preferred by sculptors.

Durgi stone carvings date back to 3rd century AD and are linked to earliest Palaeolithic civilisations that existed in lower Krishna basin adjoining Naguleru, a tributary of the River Krishna.

Later, the style drew inspiration from the Amaravathi school of art with its intrinsic carvings on soft stone. It is said that the artisans built a Durga temple in the village, hence the name Durgi.

The wide range of creations include statues of gods and goddesses, utilitarian pieces like Tulsi pots, flower vases and garden sculptures and decorative pieces.

In June 2017, the Durgi stone carvings were granted Geographical Indication (GI) tag giving it a distinct identity.

However, neither the GI tag nor the fine craftsmanship has helped the sculptors sustain themselves.

Lack of access to the organised market, dwindling government support and declining demand for stone art is forcing many sculptors to abandon their chisels and hammers for sickles and pens.

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Printable version | May 21, 2022 2:25:03 pm |