The City of Palaces aka Mysuru boasts of a heritage that spans several centuries. The streets of Mysuru, too, are replete with a character that reek elegance. Apart from close to 200 heritage buildings, the city’s roundabouts are symbols of splendour.
Whether it’s the striking 15-feet monolithic statue of Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar at Harding Circle or that of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa at Ramakrishna Nagar Circle or the statue of B R Ambedkar at Town Hall, the ornateness in the sculptures is awe-inspiring.
The handiwork belongs to Arun Yogiraj and his team belonging to B Basavanna Shilpi and Sons, now called Kashyapa Shilpa Kala Nikethana. An art and sculpting centre located on the busy Chamaraja Road, this is one place you do not want to miss during your trip to Mysuru.
Runs in the family
Arun belongs to the fifth generation of a family of sculptors and practises this craft that he learnt from his father Yogiraj Shilpi. He sculpts in the Dravidian and the Hoysala styles and in contemporary style as well.
His grandfather, B Basavanna Shilpi, trained under the renowned Shilpi Siddanthi Siddalinga Swami, who was the Royal Guru of the Mysore Palace. A national award-winner, Arun’s grandfather has the distinction of supplying 64 idols in just 11 months to Gayatri Temple within the palace premises.
He won the appreciation of not only Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, who presented him a golden chisel and a silver hammer, but also that of erstwhile prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
“It’s indeed a rich legacy that I have inherited and have been trying to live up to since 2008. My grandfather maintained documentation in the form of photographs and drawings in the early 1970s, and this has been a valuable reference to me,” says Arun, who is an MBA graduate.
Arun says it’s only when he worked in the software industry, away from the craft, that he “realised the value of the craft and that it was my true calling.”
He works with a team of 15 artisans and five student interns.
While marble and granite are used, the main material used for sculpting is the steatite stone. A metamorphic rock, steatite is soft and can be easily carved.
It is resistant to high temperatures (as high as 1200°C), water, fire and acid. It is non-reactive, non-porous and non-absorbent, and hence ideal for temple idols that are subject to worship using milk, ghee etc.
The raw material is procured from the mines in Hassan and H D Kote.
“The process is handmade and we sketch a rough drawing of the figure directly on the block and start shaping, etching, sculpting and chiselling. A unique aspect of this craft is that the stone loses 65% of its weight and subsequently becomes hard after exposure to air and oxidation,” explains Arun.
After the final polish, they use filing tools, sandpaper and natural materials like coconut oil and dry coconut ash, which render the statue a jet-black colour.
The craft is not without its challenges as there is no scope for ‘trial and error’.
The availability of raw material is dependent on the people who have the licences and permits of the mines. “It would have helped if artisans could get the stone directly from a government depot rather than from private parties. Selection of stone is also key as the initial slab should be free of cavities and damages of any sort,” rues Arun.
The fact that the end product depends on the artistic ability of the sculptor is a challenge in that one must work hard on the proportions, facial features and resemblance of the statue.
“The craft is a fine balance of arithmetic, geometry and art. Giving form and life to the sculpture is the essence of the craft, and the process of fine-tuning and learning is a continuous one,” adds Arun.
Apart from the monuments in Mysore Zoo and Mysore University, Arun has also worked on a six-feet Garuda sculpture in the Venugopala Swamy Temple at the KRS backwaters.
While multiple orders from the US and a Hoysala temple project in Malaysia keep him busy, he is passionate about giving back and sharing his knowledge with art students.
He has trained close to 60 students across India and abroad till date free of cost.
He runs the Brahmarshi Kashayapa Shilpakala Shala trust in Saraswathipuram where children are trained in clay -modelling, stone-balancing, drawing and allied skills.
“My long-term vision is to take up projects that have social relevance and teach youngsters nuances that are not taught in the university — keeping the craft relevant, using technology to improve quality, the best practices and trends of sculpting that are followed abroad,” signs off Arun.