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.