Stone Craft of Orissa

 By: Sukant Senapaty
The history of stone craft is the history of civilization. No other form of art has ever withstood the ravages of time to tell us the story its creation. Be it the "Statue of David" by Michelangelo or the "Discuss Thrower" statue of the Greeks, the sculpture of stones have their own uniqueness; their own ability to speak. And in a land like Orissa, where the craft of stone sculpting attained astonishing heights, it is but natural that entire history of the state is weaved around this timeless craft! Starting from the rock edicts of Ashoka to the supreme sculptures of Konark, from the motifs of Vaital temple to the present day image of Krishna, Orissa has been the centre of supreme stone craftsmanship.

The art of carving stone that evolved in Orissa over the ancient periods have reached excellence in modern day through centuries of disciplined efforts. Even today, a drive through Cuttack-Puri road would bring one face to face with many stone carving museums that house beautiful carvings of local artists. Done in white sandstone red sandstone, pink onex and black granite, these carvings are known for their intricacies, classic touch and detailed attention.

Till date traditional instruments consisting of hammers and chisels of various shapes and sizes are used to give shape to the imagination of the craftsperson. The craftsman borrows heavily from the Hindu mythology as theme of their work. Hindu deities like Lord Ganesha, Goddess Laxmi, Lord Vishnu, Buddha and Saraswati and themes from Konark temple form the crux of the thematic expressions of these dexterous craftsperson.

The process of stone carving is lengthy and needs great deal of patience. The process generally begins by choosing the right size of stone and then knocking out pieces of it from the base. The artists need to know which tool to use and how much force to exert in hitting off a piece of stone from the block. Once the general shape of the statue has been determined, the sculptor uses other tools to refine the figure. Eventually the sculptor has changed the stone from a rough block into the general shape of the finished statue. The final stage of the carving process is polishing. Sandpaper can be used as a first step in the polishing process. Emery, a stone that is harder and rougher than the sculpture media, is also used in the finishing process. This abrading, or wearing away, brings out the color of the stone, reveals patterns in the surface and adds sheen.

Apart from idols, a variety of household products are made from sand stone by the craftsmen of Orissa. Contemporary artisans have made many a decorative and utility articles like ashtrays, paperweights, candle stands and book rests out of stone carvings. Even items like kitchenware are commonly made. Indeed the stone craft of Orissa has scaled glorious heights!
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