The god makers of Kolar: Divine stone sculptors pass art to generations

In a remote hamlet in Karnataka, every household is involved in the art of divine stone sculpture for generations.

Published: 14th February 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th February 2021 11:27 AM   |  A+A-

An artist at work in Shivarapatna

An artist at work in Shivarapatna. (Photo| EPS)

Express News Service

In a nondescript corner of Karnataka's Kolar district, Lord Krishna is getting ready to travel to France. It isn't difficult to find the gods in the state. Take a drive along the 60-km stretch from Bengaluru to Shivarapatna, home to Karnataka's Vishwakarma community, to be greeted by the noise of chisels, bangs of hammers and the whirr of electrical cutters.

A walk around the village will take you along a well-laid road with homes boasting large stone sculptures on either side. The old gods such as Hanuman, Ganesha, Lakshmi, and new icons such as Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar jostle for space with pillars and mandaps.

Legend has it that this was where Ganga King Shivamara II lived and Shivarapatna derives its name from him. The artisans here, like the 31-year-old Shivu, are descendants of the crafts people who built the famed temples of Belur, Halebidu and Hampi.  "My grandfather and father were both stone carvers," he says.

The granite is sourced from Mysore, Doddajala, Hegere, Heggadadevanakot and Jakassandra. Stones such as the 'Krishna shile' (a black stone) and 'balapada kallu' (soft grey stone) are used to sculpt the idols.  "A four-foot tall idol takes close to one-and-a-half months to carve and finish," adds Shivu, who has a team of 10 working for him.

The process is linear. First the sculptor cuts the rough stones to shape. Then they make a sketch on the stone. Then they begin to chisel along the outline. An emery stone is used to smooth the figure in the final stages.

The face is usually finished in the end. While a lot of work is done by hand, machines are also slowly being used to shape the idol. While the Karnataka government gave the village the status of 'Paramparika Shilpakala Grama' (Heritage Sculpture Village) in 2010, the craftsmen lament that nothing concrete has been done to protect the thousand-year-old craft.

"We have no subsidy for electricity. There is no permission for transport. There is a large source of stone at the Surya Malleshwara Betta which is only 20 km away but we have not got permission to access it," rues Shivu. Murthy (28), another artisan, says he has been in the trade for 18 years now.

"We work only to order and export our products to the US and Europe. We also craft idols using panchaloha, a combination of five metals using an almost extinct process by which the idols are crafted in wax," he explains. Whether stone, or metal, this tiny village is an abode of the gods. The dedication of their scultpros is set in stone. 

The Stone Story

Legend says that Shivarapatna was a royal present to a 'shilpachar'. Myth has it that a king, pleased with the artisan’s efforts, gifted him the village. Over time, it became home to a community of artisans. Another story says that an artisan spent a night near this village and was offered land there to practise his skills.

Yet another story attributes the founding of Shivarapatna to Basavalingacharya, a sculptor who learned his art in Kanchi, and his descendents settled here.


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp