Mars Odyssey Now Immortalised in Stone

Kanaka Murthy, well-known sculptor of temple idols, chisels an unusual tribute to the Mangalyaan project
Mars Odyssey Now Immortalised in Stone

LINGARAJAPURAM:Departing from her usual style, Kanaka Murthy, famous as the only woman whose sculptures are worshipped in Indian temples, has created a fibre glass sculpture as a tribute to Team Mangalyaan.

She’s best known for her portraits — several of them stand in prominent locations in the city — and her traditional sculptures in a variety of styles including Hoysala, Chola and Chalukya.

Her latest red-brown piece, however, is more stylised, not so much juxtaposing as blending technology and mythology. While it depicts a rocket, its launch pad and Mars with its orbit, it also has the sun as a life-giving form and the planet as riding a peacock.

She sought the help of Nitin D Ghatpande, Group Director, Power Systems Group at ISRO, who was one of the key members of the Mars mission. “He’s my niece’s neighbour, so she arranged for me to talk to him. He explained everything so well,” she says.

In fact, it was at his insistence that she decided to have the peacock as Mangala’s vehicle. “Traditionally, there’s a goat as well, but he said that the peacock was more aesthetically appealing,” she recounts.

When they met, music — a passion that Kanaka couldn’t pursue — helped break the ice. “He plays the tabla and is interested in talking about Pandit Bhimsen Joshi,” she says in a chat with City Express. Kanaka had done a portrait of the celebrated singer.

“He (Ghatpande) even pulled my leg, saying you’ve left your gods and are leaning towards us,” she says.

But responding to the jovial remark now, she says, “Where have I moved away? There’s the traditional Mangala and Surya in my sculpture!” And what Ghatpande and his colleagues have accomplished is no mean feat, one that will go down in the annals of history, she adds, and the younger generation of sculptors needs to take note of the happenings around them.

“Poets, dancers, members of every community of art respond to what goes on in the world around them. We need to do that too,” she remarks.

Though not a commissioned project, it was Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Bengaluru director H N Suresh who first sparked her interest. “He said, why don’t we make mementos for the team behind the Mangalyaan project? For some reason — the scientists are probably busy and unable to give a date — the presentation hasn’t happened yet,” she says. But the thought got her working on the sculpture.

As a token of gratitude for his help, she has made a smaller version for Ghatpande. And the larger piece that she has taken three months to work on — apart from a month she spent on the line drawing — hangs on the wall outside her house, surrounded by the quaint garden she tends.

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The New Indian Express