Coming alive out of stones

MADURAI IS one of the oldest cities in the country and even today it holds several unique things of high cultural value, which it acquired through ages.

The best way adopted by the kings to propagate the culture in olden days was through idols in palaces and at places of historical importance. As a result, the art of sculpture got an important place in the history of the city.

Even today, a good number of families are involved in this work and it is also their family profession. These families are mostly located at Pasumalai and Keezha Vasal.

There are about 10 shops at Pasumalai and they thrive mainly on orders for idols to be installed in temples, both existing and the new ones.

Among the various idols sought by customers, the idol of Lord Ganesha tops the list, followed by Goddess Mariamman and the third place goes to Nagar idols. "The minimum cost to make an idol is Rs.2,500, which will measure one-and-a-half feet in height and as the height increases, the rate goes up", says Muthuvel, a sculptor running a shop on the GST Road at Pasumalai.

The stones used in these workshops are procured from T.Subbulapuram near Andipatti. They are classified into two types, the male and the female. "The female stones are used for making idols and the male type is used mostly for making roof-works. These can be differentiated by their roughness", explains Muthuvel.

The rates of these stones begin from Rs.140 per foot. After their arrival at the workshops, the sculptor marks the figure to be carved out in that stone and the levellers start their job as per the marking. These carving works are done only during daytime and they finish the job by 6 pm. "Though there is no hard-and-fast rule that the work should be carried out only during daytime, still we avoid working after dusk because at night you will not be able to get perfect finish and show finesse in the work", says Mr. Muthuvel.

An experienced sculptor is paid a daily wage of Rs.150 to 200 and the levellers are given Rs.130 per day.

Senthil Kumar (22), who has got a degree in commerce and computer-literate, says, "I decided to take up this job as I did not get a job for my qualification. Moreover, this is also my family profession".

Regarding recognised courses to learn this art, a three-year degree course is conducted at Mahabalipuram College. One of the students from this college is Lakshmi Narayanan (42), who works as a sculptor in a shop at Pasumalai.

He says, "I get an income of 200 per day. I don't resent about my wards taking up this profession. But it is for them to decide".

Mr. Muthuvel says, "there is no retirement in this profession and as you grow older your skills in this art improve. What is vital for this work is a strong hand and accurate vision".

Speaking about the business prospects, he says, "the peak time is January to March and July to September. But sometimes there will be no business at all".

Detailing about the time taken for making an idol, Mr. Muthuvel says, "it may take 15 days to complete and deliver an idol of one-and-a-half feet. Sometimes the idol may develop cracks while carving and the time limit may exceed in such situations. The loss will also have to be incurred by us".

"Yes we get injuries often in eyes while doing the work. But it is all in the game", says the casual Lakshmi Narayanan.

Regarding quality, he says, "the idols made today do not have the finish which were given in the olden days. Customers of the present day prefer massive figures and are also rate conscious. Time frame is also yet another reason for this".

Among the rare idols made in these shops, Mr. Muthuvel says, "now, I have got an order for a Kubera idol to placed at a temple in Vandalur, near Chennai. Other rare idols are the circular shaped Lord Chakkrathazhvar and Lord Ranganathar".

What these workers regret is that there is no proper patronage from the Government to improve their lifestyle and the art.

Above all, it won't be too much if these artists are called `Bramhas', because they give life to even the sturdy stones.


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