Chembottukandi Subrahmanya Panicker may not be a known name among Kozhikodens, but most of the idols in the temples in the district were sculpted by this man from Kavumthara in Naduvannur. Sculpting Hindu deities, he earns a decent living even in his 80s.
Any talented artiste, irrespective of gender and religion, can sculpt idols for temples, says Subrahmanyan, who does not give room for religion in temple architecture. He strongly believes in respecting all religions equally.
“Dedication matters in sculpting since it is a time-consuming and patience-demanding work,” he says. His work has taught him to be patient under any circumstance.
Clad in saffron dhothi and kurta, he now leads a disciplined and pious life in a hut-come workshop near his house.
In his words, a good sculptor can give life to a stone. Panayi Bhagavathy temple in Balussery and Subrahmanya temple in Kavumthara proclaim his craftsmanship.
“I have worked in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and some regions of Thalassery and Kannur. Those years were the training period in my life when I imbibed the art of sculpting,” he says.
He cannot point out a guru in the art of stone carving as he learnt it from various persons and places. Subrahmanyan has studied till class V. He started working on stone at the tender age of 13.
Subrahmanya speaks of ‘Krishna sila’ with utmost passion. ‘Krishna sila’ is strong and perfect to make idols. According to him, the duration depends on the nature of the work. Dancing Siva, Gulikan, Krishna, Goddess Bhadrakali, Ganapathy and Subrahmanya are a few of his works. He has also carved the sanctum sanctorum of temples in his region. Subrahmanyan does not approach any devaswom committee to get orders. “I am very particular about my work. If I am confident enough I will take up the job,” he says. Several devaswom committees had expressed their desire to hire him. But he was not ready to limit his talent to a single temple.
Father of five children, Subrahmanyan did not force any of his children to follow in his footsteps. “We cannot compel anybody to take up any job. Sculpting demands undying passion,” he says.
There is no fixed time for this sculptor to engage in work. “It is something part of my life,” he says. Asked why he works even at this age, he says there is no retirement for a sculptor. “I want to die while sculpting,” he adds.