The finest examples of the ancient craft of stone carving adorn the temples of Puri, Bhubaneswar and Konark and is a tribute to the architectural ingenuity that Odisha is renowned for. The sculptures with its exquisite detailing and craftsmanship were an expression of love, devotion and faith and went beyond religion into the realm of spirituality and consciousness.
Every temple in the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Puri, Bhubaneswar and Konark dazzle you with its richness, exemplary skill and remarkable depiction of the entire gamut of creation which can only be termed as ethereal beauty.
This tradition of sculpting stone in temples dates back to the late 6th century to early 7th century. Almost all the temples built by the Eastern Ganga dynasty are par excellence whose splendour and brilliance are unlikely to be seen again.
As the years have gone by, this craft is now more of an art and reproductions of the stonework seen in the temples of Odisha are both decorative as well as utilitarian pieces. The artists of today work with the traditional tools of chisel and hammer and adopt the age-old doctrines laid down in the Hindu texts to recreate these masterpieces.
The artists work with both hard and soft stone but prefer the soft stone as they can use their simple tools. Red sandstone, Makrana marble, Khondalite (called Sahana Pathara locally), black granite (called Muguni Pathara), Serpentinite, white soapstone (called Khadi Pathara or soft stone locally) and Kochila Pathara (that is Greenschist or greenstone deriving its name from the abundance of green chlorite, serpentine and others) are the most commonly used stones.
The stone is cut according to the design planned using a saw and chisel. The side of the cut stone is smoothened using a local tool. A basic design is traced on the stone and shaped using a chisel. Hammers and chisels of various sizes and types are then used to make a deeper impression on the stone. All the surfaces are meticulously finished and sandpapered.
The uniqueness of these stone carvings comes from the serpentine stone used which is found in an array of colours like shades of green, pink, grey and black. The dull lustre and feel of this stone that resembles the colour and markings of the snakeskin lends the postures of the Odissi dancers, swarasundaris (damsels playing musical instruments), Konark wheel, horses, elephants, lions as well as idols of Lord Ganesha, Lord Krishna and Radha Devi, Lord Buddha, Durga Devi and others an air of elegance and charm.
Home décor items like candle stands, bookends, vases, pen stands, paperweights, lamp bases, stoneware utensils like cups, vessels, glasses and items for puja are also made by these craftsmen. These days the artisans have started creating modern pieces which are hugely popular among tourists as well as locals.
This divine craft received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2008.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)