Infusing life into stones

Stone carver Manjunath Achar giving final touches to a statue. DH Photo by B H Shivakumar

Despite the advent of technology and new types of art, a few stone carvers are still striving hard to preserve and contemporise traditional skills. One such artisan who is adept at infusing life into stones is Manjunath Achar, a native of Shivarapatna in Malur taluk of Kolar district. Though Manjunath has 
experimented with multiple materials, he has mastered the stone medium with 
specialisation in multi-dimensional carving. The uniqueness of this technique is that even though the statue has several angles, it appears to be a two-dimensional one.

There are only a few carvers who attempt an intricate art of this kind. Manjunath’s workplace reminds one of a secular centre with idols of mythological and historical characters from various faiths, sects and belief systems getting ready to be dispatched to various parts of the State, country, and sometimes, even abroad. 
The sound of hammers, power hacksaws and drilling machines fill the air, while stone dust envelopes the place when one walks into his facility at Shivanalli in Bengaluru. 

Manjunath always works on the popular themes of Indian mythology. His creations are imbued with a unique visual vocabulary and are known to be expressive. He works with different kinds of stone such as white sandstone, red sandstone and soapstone. “For me, expression is the language of a statue,” he says.

Folk deities popular among communities are virtually reborn in his creations displaying the diversity of inspiration. He carves each side in such a way that the subject on one side does not interfere with the subjects on the other. Despite having many themes in one creation, he ensures aesthetic correlation of varied styles 
and patterns.

The beginnings

“It was my elder brother Rajashekhar who inspired me. He started training me when I was in school. Later, I joined a gurukul at Shivarapatna in Kolar and honed my skills,” he says. Manjunath, who is in the profession for over three decades, is the first member in his family to master the art. When asked how he develops concepts, he says, “A boulder doesn’t look like a piece of stone for me but like an image or a mythological character. I visualise figures that could be carved out of the stone. I set out to work once there is clarity in my thoughts.” It takes a few days or weeks for him to complete a work of art. Sometimes, it takes months. “I need to compose and visualise differently. It could be a creative vocation but there is an equal amount of manual labour involved,” he adds.

He displays many of his creations in his facility and each one speaks a tale of its own about his mastery, expression and imagination. Manjunath’s creations have been exhibited at various places in Karnataka. Statues of deities of various sizes have adorned temples, public gardens, hotels, houses and offices. On an average, he makes 20 statues and idols in a year.

“It is very important to preserve the art form and pass it on to the next generation,” he says. Achar organises training programmes of one-year and two-year durations in his facility. Between two and four youths, who are interested to master the art and want to make a career out of it, are selected for the training programme. They are given free training, food and accommodation. While Manjunath believes that a five-year training programme is ideal to learn this intricate art, some enthusiasts stay beyond five years. Manjunath has participated as a resource person in carving camps organised for rural artisans. “My ancestors were carpenters in Shiggaon taluk of Haveri district. I decided to learn this art and joined as a trainee about five years ago,” says Aravind K R. 

Though there is not much money involved in the art, it brings a decent income. Manjunath feels that the creative satisfaction it provides is much more valuable. 

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