Makers of the chariots of gods

skills that awe

Makers of the chariots of gods

Chariot processions are integral to annual fairs and festivals across the State. Huge chariots moving majestically amidst the crowd without any contretemps is a common sight in temples during the annual car festivals. While the magnificence of chariots creates an aura of

divinity, viewing the beautiful carvings on these wooden structures can be an awe-inspiring experience. Needless to say, the skills and hard work of the sculptors are central to the making of beautiful chariots. One such sculptor who has been giving a new dimension to the art of chariot-making is Basavaraj S Badiger, who hails from Sulla village in Badami taluk. His family is known for its chariot-making skills and many of his ancestors were famous as master artisans.

Basavaraj’s family is credited with making more than 60 chariots at important places across the State such as Hadi Basaveshwara Ratha in Guledgudda (1942), Kelavadi Ranganathaswamy Ratha, Itagi Maheshwaraswamy Ratha and the chariot of Lord Mallikarjuna in Shreeshaila (1969). “Designing a chariot requires patience, skill and creativity. One can become a successful sculptor only with hard work and constant effort. One should be able to grasp the designs and motifs, and sculpt them flawlessly,” says Basavaraj.

Since chariot-making was a family occupation, Basavaraj was exposed to it  since his childhood. His father, Shankarappa, taught the basics of this art when Basavaraj discontinued his studies at the tender age of 12. “I was more interested in this work than studying,” he says. His first assignment was the construction of Basaveshwara chariot in Kadabalakatti near Gajendragad 1976. “I joined my father’s team and stayed in Gajendragad for one year. We were paid Rs 8,000 for the work. My father always considered this work as a service and didn’t give much importance to money. Those days, the temple premises used to be our home during the chariot-making period. We got the affection and respect of people, who also used to supply groceries and other essentials to us. With the support of public and temple administration and the blessings of the almighty, we could make our ends meet,” he recalls.

After gaining some experience, Basavaraj and his father moved to Bengaluru in 1989 and started a workshop. It proved to be the right decision as they started getting assignments from neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. In 1990, Basavaraj started a training centre in Bengaluru to take the family’s legacy to the next level. Shankarappa guided and supported his son’s effort until his death in 1993. Since then, S M Badiger Chariot-making Training Institute has been training youngsters and art enthusiasts. Most of the trainees here are from the rural areas of North Karnataka and are either underprivileged or deprived of opportunities.

When more and more youngsters started approaching the centre for training, Basavaraj and his wife Vidyavathi decided to opt for gurukul system of teaching. “Some of them used to find it difficult to get proper accommodation due to many reasons and I always believed that teaching becomes more effective through gurukul system where learning is not time-bound,” says Basavaraj.

The training period is generally three years, but depending on the requirements and grasping capacity of the students, it can be extended to five years too. In one batch, 10 students learn and practise the intricacies of chariot-making at Kamala-Shankara Gurukula in Kamakshipalya, Bengaluru. Basavaraj and Vidyavathi don’t charge any fee for food and accommodation.

Basavaraj has a team of people who do the chariot work and also train the students. During the training period, students are given training in wood work, carving and making idols. “A chariot maker requires 60% knowledge of carpentry, 30% of carving work and 10% of idol making,” says Basavaraj. The team makes one big chariot or two small ones in a year. Palanquin, temple flag posts and utsava murthy are some other products made here. His sons, Shivakumar and Echareshwar, also help him in the work.

A chariot has five important parts — wheel, base, mantapa, gopura and kalasha. Every stage requires a different skill and Basavaraj’s team follows the traditional measurements while designing each part. While neem, sandalwood, banni, honne, nandi and ankole logs are used to make the main parts of the chariot, teak wood is used for parts where carving is done. “My father always preferred these wood varieties as they make the chariot strong and attractive. I am following his footsteps,” says Basavaraj while indicating that sourcing good quality wood is a problem today.

In the last 27 years, the training centre has produced over 40 sculptors. While 10 to 15 of them are well-versed in the art and have become successful as chariot
makers, some have taken up related occupations like door-carving. “We are grateful to Basavaraj sir and his family for providing us an opportunity to excel in the art of chariot-making. This is an on-the-job training,” say young sculptors Arunkumar Badiger, Shankarachari, Rajesh, Ramesh, Jagadeesh, Veeresh and Prashanth. During the training period, trainees get involved in the making of about 10 chariots. This gives them the confidence and skill to start independently.

Considering his contribution to the field, Basavaraj has been honoured with many awards and was also a member of Karnataka Shilpakala Academy. One can contact Basavaraj Badiger on 9880819425.

(Translated by Anitha Pailoor)

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