It is a New Year and I wanted to start the year with a promising note. We hear about dying crafts everyday. Here is one such that has stood the test of time due to exposure and patronage. A family of craftsmen who migrated from Karnataka to Swamimalai during the Chola dynasty. The king invited them to set up a workshop. Since these craftsmen are heavily dependant on the soil quality, they settled down here on the banks of the river. They found the right kind of soil here and established themselves. There has been no looking back ever since.
Everything is Tamil Nadu starts with paying obeisance to the local deity. We did the same at the local temple and started to find the idol makers of Swamimalai.
We found the workshop located quite centrally. Around 20 craftsmen were working under the guidance of the Sthapathy brothers. In the picture, you can find one of the brothers at the end of the line.
The Sthapathy family can date their ancestors back to the Chola dynasty and their genealogy proudly hangs on the wall of the reception area. The craft has been carefully passed down over generations and the quality of the product is unmatched and even gets better with passing time. The demand is also similar with orders for the next whole year.
The craft owes its upkeep and success to patronage from the local community. The walls are adorned with black and white photographs of eminent personalities who are patrons of this craft. The family has a National Award winner in every generation!
Owing to the growing demand, the family has employed more people in this craft. But the secret of creating the perfect wax model lies entirely with the family. The model is made of wax and it’s proportions conform to the fundamental principles of Shilpashastra (ancient science of making sculptures). The various body parts and the ornaments are carved on the model based on this science. A strip of moistened coconut leaf is used as a base of measurements.
The wax model is then covered with alluvial soil taken from the river bank. A few slots are cut out to drain out the wax during the heating process. The model is then sun-dried to remove excess moisture. This process is repeated till the whole structure has an even layer of soil coating. The model is further wound with steel wires to avoid breakage.
The model is then heated in a chamber using dried cow dung as fuel. The wax melts and pours out from the slots provided. This is called the ‘karuvu’ (chamber) and is filled with a liquid mixture of copper, brass and lead. This is done with the karuvu buried in soil in an upright position.
Once the sculpture is cooled, the outer soil coverings and steel frame are broken.
A rough metal image emerges which is chiselled, filed and engraved to get the final figure.
The Sthapathy family have taken measures from their end to preserve this craft. They have a website and are almost always cordial to visitors. In case you travel to the Thanjavore temple, this craft abode is a must visit.