The sculptor of divine chariots

The sculptor of divine chariots

Despite being engaged in carving chariots for half a century, Lakshmi Narayan Acharya still seems to be excited and enthusiastic about his work

Despite being engaged in carving chariots for half a century, Lakshmi Narayan Acharya still seems to be excited and enthusiastic about his work.

74-year-old Acharya was interested in the field since his childhood and started out in the profession when he was just 11 years old. Along with his brother, Acharya started learning how to carve wood under the guidance of Ramachandra Aithala, a sculptor, at his workshop.

Then, at 18 years old, he and his brother Shankar Acharya opened their own workshop. Initially, they began the work of carving and constructing temple pavilions, idols and arches. Their professional fortunes took a turn when they were given the responsibility of carving the main door of the Pattabhirama temple in Koteshwara, Udupi.

This was when Acharya took up contracts to carve chariots for the same temple. He took to the task of carving chariots with much fervour. He not only brought in various innovative designs but also introduced a steering system in the chariot, which he implemented successfully at the Mookambika temple in Kollur, Udupi. He later implemented the same system to more than 60 old chariots, to improve their ease of usage.

In the 1980s, Acharya opened up his own school of chariot making in Kundapura, called Vishwakarma Karakushala Shale. His workshop there now employs 10 workers, who are also provided with food and shelter. The space is also adequately equipped to make three-four massive chariots simultaneously.

Types of chariots  

Some of the varieties of chariots he has introduced include the pushparatha, which consists of four wheels and a flower-like appearance on the outside, used mainly for events during full moon and no moon days; the brahmaratha has six wheels and is usually brought out by temples during the Brahmotsava events; the meruratha has eight wheels, while the maha-meru ratha has ten wheels.

Over the years, Narayan Acharya has made chariots for temples not just across Karnataka but even Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

“We have known Lakshmi Narayan Acharya for quite long time now. Initially they helped us maintain our previous chariots. We recently got a silver chariot built and sculptured within three months. What satisfies us the most in his works is that, there is no compromise whatsoever in the quality of chariots they make — from the wood included to the perfection of miniature designs,” says Sridhar Kamat, the head of temple management at the Pattabhi Ramachandra Temple in Koteshwara, Kundapura.

“As long as the commemoration of festivals and carnivals continues, the need of chariots will remain.” Acharya says.

Narayana Acharya hasn’t only trained several artists in his carving workshop but has also encouraged them into being professionals in the same field. “One who knows sculpturing can survive not just by carving chariots but also in the other arts,” he says.

For all his efforts to rejuvenate and carry forward this age-old tradition, Lakshmi Narayan Acharya deserves a great deal of gratitude.