Romancing The Stone
Stone carving is a major handicraft of Orissa. As is evident from the innumerable archaeological monuments, rock-cut sculptures, caves and temples built for centuries and embellished with most beautiful and intricately carved statue and other adornments, the art of carving in stone had reached, in Orissa, dizzy heights of excellence perfected through centuries of disciplined efforts of generations of artisans.
The progeny of these artisans who built the magnificent temples of "Parsurameswar", "Mukteswar", "Lingaraja", "Jagannatha" (also spelt as Jagannath) and that wonder in stone, the temple chariot of the Sun God at Konark . Besides the beautiful Stupas and monasteries of Lalitagiri Ratnagiri and Udayagiri have kept alive the sculptural traditions of their forefathers and their deft hands can and do chisel and carve exact replicas of the original temple sculptures besides producing a variety of other items.
Unlike sculptors of other places, the artisans of Orissa are at home with a variety of materials. They handle with equal facility the ultra soft white soapstone, or "Khadipathara", as the slightly harder greenish chlorite or "Kochilapathara" and the still harder pinkish Khandolite or "Sahanapathara" or "Baulapathara" and the hardest of all black granite or "Mugunipathara".
The tools they use are few and simple and consist mainly of hammers and chisels of various shapes and sizes with such local names as 'Muna', 'Patili', 'Martual', 'Thuk-Thuki' and 'Nihana'. Whether the stone is hard or soft a sort of outline is first drawn on the stone which is already cut to the appropriate size.
Once the outline is incised indicating the shape, the final figure is brought out by removing the unwanted portions. While for the harder stones this is done by chiseling out the extra material, with softer stones this is done by scraping out the same with a sharp flat-edged iron tool. As for the motifs, the endless variety of sculptures adorning the temples provides the models although other motifs are also not uncommon.
The Exquisite Embellishments
Among the former the ubiquitous "Alasa Kanyas" or indolent damsels and "Salabhanjikas", lady with the bough of a sal tree, "Surasundaris" heavenly beauties playing on different musical instruments adorning the topmost tier of the Konark temple, the "Nava Grahas" or nine deities representing the nine planets, Konark wheel, Konark horse, elephant, lion composite mythical figures like 'Gajabidala', 'Gajasimha' are quite popular.
Other motifs include representation of deities of the Hindu pantheon like Krishna and Radha, Laxmi, Vishnu, Durga, Buddha, Ganesa, 'Haraparvati', Nrusingha etc. In recent times may decorative and utilitarian articles like ashtrays, paperweights, candle stands book rests are also being made. These carvers also make images for installation in temples as presiding deities and Parswa-Devatas as well as large pieces for decoration of public places.
One may find samples of these in the Handicrafts museum, Bhubaneswar , in the Parliament House annexe in Delhi , Konark horse in the Barabati Stadium at Cuttack and Konark wheel almost the same size as the original adorning the face of a modern Hotel at Bhubaneswar. Another giant Konark horse will adorn the traffic island at a busy intersection in Bhubaneswar and will soon be a landmark.
The four colossal Buddha images and the friezes depicting the life of the Buddha and Ashoka in the modern "Shanti Stupa" at Dhauli are also the handiwork of Orissa's craftsmen. Artisans mainly at Puri, Bhubaneswar, and Lalitgiri in Cuttack district practice the handicraft though some are also found in Khiching in Mayurbhanj District. The traditions are carried on from generation to generation and a few ancient texts on the art, which have survived, are followed closely.
Utensils & Kitchenware
Apart from the decorative, votive articles and modern utilitarian items, the craft also covers another group of products in shape of stoneware utensils and kitchenwares.
Following the simple process of turning and polishing by using a local wooden lathe called "Kunda", the craftsmen produce beautiful polished plates ('Thali'), containers ('Gina, Pathuri'), cups and glasses. These are used for pujas, ritual worships as well for regular eating 'Pathuris', stone ware deep containers are particularly good for storing curd as they do not react to acid and these are also filled with water and used for placing the legs of wooden 'Almirahs' to prevent ants from getting in. The craftsmen making these articles are concentrated at Baulagadia and Nilgiri.