The Scriptures advise Athithi devo bhava– honour the guest and offer him hospitality. That precisely was what the village folk of Shivarapatna did long time ago during the reign of the kings of the Ganga dynasty, when a weary traveler stopped by at their tiny village looking for food and rest. The simple villagers welcomed him and as was the culture of the country offered him food to gladden his stomach and warm his heart. Little did they know that this small everyday act would change the course of history of the tiny village. It literally put the place on the world map. The hungry man was an artiste, a master craftsman who decided to repay the kindness of the villagers with something long lasting and valuable. He decided to initiate them into the art of sculpting stones, of creating deities and demi gods and thus was born the legend of Shivarapatna as shilpa kashi, the place from where idols of gods and goddesses are transported to different parts of the world whenever a new temple is built or an old idol has to be replaced.
Sixty kilometers from the city of Bangalore in the district of Kolar is Shivarapatna in Malur taluk. Dusty, narrow roads take us to the cluster of craftsmen who work on stones to create gods and popular leaders and sell them to patrons who come from all over the world to see these wonderful creations. Watching the craftsmen beat, chisel, polish and shape the soft and hard stones is sheer poetry in action. Travelling by the Bangalore- Kolar highway, and turning into the dusty village roads, it is difficult to believe that there is a gem of a village as it is well hidden from the main road. A cluster of about hundred artisans have formed their own self help groups and are engaged in stone carving all through the day. Customers come from all over the world to select and place orders for idols of deities, sometimes for leaders and other personalities.
The Art of Stone Carving
The earliest known leisure activity known to man is perhaps stone carving. Right from the prehistoric times, one can see examples of man’s ingenuity as he tried to master the craft and raise it to the level of a fine art. Ancient man used hammer and chisel to bring out masterpieces in stone. Later on, with the help of modern technology, the art has improved with artists able to define fine features on the sculptures.
In India, right from the Indus Valley Civilization, stone sculpting as an art has developed throughout history. The permanence of the material has ensured that these works of glory are available to us. Stone sculptures have also stood the ravages of time and vagaries of climate better and therefore we see fine examples of sculptures in temples, palaces and even caves in India. The Gupta dynasty, the Tamil dynasties of Chola, Chera and Pallava, the Chalukya, Chandela empires, the Vijaynagar, Maratha and Mysore dynasties, the Deccan kingdom – all these saw great patronage of the arts and therefore we have sculptures representative of each of them spread throughout the Indian subcontinent.
Method of Stone Carving in Shivarapatna
The artisans work on the image hidden inside the rough stone patiently chiselling and hammering away until the figure is brought out to public view after many days of labour. For carving on stone, the essential requisite is the availability of materials like hard granite, soft grey granite, Mysore stone and white granite. Granite and soapstone are the popular ones used by artisans here in Shivarapatna. The artisans select the stone after careful scrutiny assessing its shape and toughness and thereafter they shape the stone using chisel and hammer. Water is repeatedly sprinkled on the stone to prevent the generation of heat. The stone is then smoothened using sand papers which are rubbed vigorously on it.
Marking the dimensions of the figure to be sculpted is the next step in the process. The stone is soaked in boiling water and left overnight where it gets treated with chemicals. This makes the stone smooth and easy to begin the carving. Sawing the unwanted portions the artisan begins chiseling and the image starts shaping up slowly. Fine detailing brings out minor contours and this is done using a pointed chisel. Polishing the stone is the final step. Clay, oil and cloth are used for this process. Embellishments can be added if there is such a demand otherwise the stone sculpture is ready after this stage. Final polishing is done using emery papers and water before they are sent to adorn temples or other places in the wide world.
The Someshwara Temple
There is a quaint temple of Shiva worshipped as Someshwara in the village. Lord Shiva wears the crescent moon on his foregead, hence he is known as Someshwara or Lord of the Moon. Abhisheka is done to the chanting of Sri Rudram and Chamakam on Mondays and other days dedicated to Shiva like Pradosha or Arudra. Idols of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Parvathy are also there in the shrine.
A little away from Shivarapatna in Kolar is the ancient Someshwara Temple besides the Kotilingeshwara Temple, Kolaramma Temple and Anthargange Caves.