VELLORE: Watching 49-year-old sculptor Umapathy work with clay is a humbling experience. His hands appear to have a sentience of their own as they mould the material into a magnificent idol of Lord Vinayagar, scores of which grace the workshop at his home in Vellore’s Soolaimedu. But as the craftsman runs his fingers over his creations, his heart yearns for a glimpse of them, something he knows he can never do.
Born into a family of artisans, Umapathy dedicated his entire life to perfecting his craft despite having a congenital condition that gradually weakened his eyesight and completely robbed him of the faculty 20 years ago.
“I was born without night vision; I was told the condition would worsen and that it could not be treated. The nerves connecting the brain and the eyes had withered; I have to live with it all my life,” Umapathy told Express, adding he does not know the medical term for the condition.
The sculptor recalls that he started learning the craft from his father at the age of 10. In a way, it was a race against time for him, for every passing year chipped away at his vision. He wanted to learn as much as possible before the inevitability manifests — complete blindness.
“Some 20 years ago, I realised that I lost my eyesight fully; I couldn’t even walk independently. Since then, I confined myself within the four walls of my home and sculpted,” he said. Over the years, Umapathy made numerous Vinayagar sculptures, agal vilakkus, and clay stoves.
When Express asked him how he makes a Vinayagar sculpture, Umapathy’s face lights up. “A sculpture is divided into three parts — Adi Peedam (the bottom part), torso, and the head. These parts are made separately and then joined to form a main piece. The hands, legs, and the trunk are then attached to this piece before carving the intricate patterns of jewellery and sculpting the crown,” he explained.
“My father has all the details imprinted indelibly in his mind; his hands and heart work together when he begins sculpting. He does everything — sculpting the parts, joining them, and making detailed carvings. The only part he does not do is sculpting the eyes and eyebrows,” said Ranjith, Umapathy’s son. “I leave that part to my wife. This is because the essence of any artwork lies in the eyes,” Umapathy said. He said he keeps working because he wanted to provide for his family, which is everything for him; and to the family (and now to Express), Umapathy is a hero!
Soolaimedu is one of the major manufacturing hubs for clay products in Vellore district. Hundreds of families here make a living working on clay for generations
You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.
— Marcus Aurelius