Some of the finest examples of Indian stone sculptures are to be found in Rajasthan patronized by rulers and philanthropists for building temples. The tradition was carried forward by guilds of artisans. For centuries artisans in Jaipur have carved marble sculptures of deities where religious iconography developed into a fine art. This was facilitated by the ready availability of fine marble from the famous Makarana mines, not very far from Jaipur.
Some examples of 19th century sculptures carved by Jaipur artisans are on display here showing an entire cosmology of Hindu and Jain deities. Even today, a lane within Jaipur’s walled city, the Khazanewalon ka Rasta is renowned for work shops engaged in sculpting small and large images of Hindu deities for temples throughout India and for temples overseas as well.
Jaipur is the centre of marble carving in Rajasthan. Craftsmen, not only create figures of deities, but also make household items like bowls, trays, items for kneading dough etc. The ‘murtikars’ or the sculptors of Jaipur, create exquisite ranges statues of Gods and Goddesses, temples, inlays from the purest marble. They make an extensive range of marble statues of Hindu Gods and Goddesses such as Ganesha, Lakshmi, Ram Durbar, Durga, and Hanuman etc.
Rajasthan has the best marble and sandstone quarries in India. The craftsmen here have an age-old tradition of carving and making sculptures.
The fascination for stone has transcended all times and ages. Whether it is ornate inlay with onyx black marble or finely latticed soapstone, the appeal of the stone has been immutable. Both Hindu and Muslim rulers of India patronized this art. Most of the temples in and around Jaipur have their deities sculpted from the Murti-Mohalla and this has been widely prevalent, since.
In Hinduism, Atri Rishi is a legendary bard and scholar and was one of 9 Prajapatis, and a son of Brahma, said to be ancestor of some Brahmin, Prajapatis, kshatriya and Vaishya communities who adopt Atri as their gotra.
Atri Gotra originates in the lineage of Brahmarshi Atri and Anasuya Devi. Brahmarshi Atri is the seer in the fifth Mandala (chapter) of the Rigveda. Atri, also called The Devour-er represents the power of detachment. He is also the Manasa Putra and was born from the mind of Lord Brahma (from his eyes) to assist Lord Brahma in the act of creation. When the sons of Brahma were destroyed by a curse of Shiva, Atri was born again from the flames of a sacrifice performed by Brahma. His wife in both manifestations was Anasuya. She bore him three sons, Datta, Durvasas, and Soma, in his first life, and a son Aryaman (Nobility), and a daughter, Amala (Purity), in the second. His three sons are the incarnations of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra (Shiva) respectively. The Trinity channelled their full creative potential through Brahmarshi Atri when they granted boons to his wife Devi Anasuya for helping the Sun to rise in the East every day.
The sculptors initially bore the onus of creating sculptures and statues of deities, coming from the lineage of Brahma, the creator of the universe. They have been considered, for the same reason to be the purest to make these sculptures that were used in temples and for other religious purposes.
Stone was amongst the first material used by prehistoric man to create tools. Though items made from stone gave way to, items made from metal, stone continued to be one of the preferred material for making sculptures.
India has a rich tradition of stone craft. Guilds of masons and stone carvers have existed here since the 3th century B.C. Different types of stones like, marble, soapstone, sand stone are used by craftsmen in India. The skills were handed down as family lore from father to son, a practice prevalent in some parts of the country even today.
India has a rich tradition of stonework, as is evident from temples in Khajuraho, Konark, Martand in Kashmir and Ellora etc., which have richly carved sculptures and relief work on them. Large temple complexes of Ramashwaram, Dilwara and Tirupati not only are marvels in stone, but they reflect a high degree of sophistication reached by craftsmen engaged in stone craft.
Rajasthan, rich in different types of hard rocks like granites, quartzite, slates, marbles and other metamorphic rocks, has been a paradise for stone-carvers’ arts and crafts of Rajasthan are commanded by the availability of indigenous raw materials in the region. Marbles and sandstones are abundantly available in the arid lands of the state. Stone art and masonry are leading art forms cultivate din the state. The forts and palaces and beautiful havelis of Rajasthan are all great examples of the exquisite mason work of the state. The fine stone carving or fragile jaali work in stone is very typical of this area. Jaipur, Thanagazi, Kishori Makrana, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Dungarpur are the main centers. Well-ornamented domestic wares in stone are beautifully designed with lot of attention to the art and its elegancy.
The ‘Mauryans’ were famous for their art and architecture Evidence of the earliest known structural temples has been recovered through excavations. A circular brick and timber shrine of the ‘Mauryan’ period of 3rd century B.C. was excavated at Bairat District of Jaipur, Rajasthan. The shrine measures 23 meters in diameter and was made of lime-plastered brickwork, alternating with 26 octagonal pillars, of wood. It was entered from the east through a small portico, supported by two wooden pillars and was surrounded by a seven feet wide ambulatory.
About 250 years ago, Sawai Jai Singh II summoned these sculptors to Jaipur for their skill, as he shifted the operating capital of his empire from Amer to Jaipur. At that time sculpture making was seen as a forte of the Brahmins. They were specifically commissioned because of the religious significance of the sculptures of deities. But today, an overwhelming 4 to 5 thousand people from across the boundaries of cast and creed are pursuing this ingenious art here. In the words of Kanhaiya lalji Atri, who has inherited the legacy of this skill for generations, the profession that was initially limited to just one lane, has now spilled over surrounding lanes which are locally recognized as ‘bhindon ka raasta’, ‘kalaamji ka raasta’ and ‘hijaron ka raasta’. And to add variety to their work, in the present times, apart from marblecarving / sculpting for temples, even politicians and other native popular figures are modeled in stone. The craftsmen here follow the rules laid down in Shilpa-shastra, while creating images of gods and deities.
Craftsmen in India use different kind of stones like marble, soapstone, sand stone etc. Large blocks of stone are quarried and then taken to various craft centers. The basic design is traced on the stone and it is given a crude shape. The final carving is then carried out and the items are polished.
Apart from carving beautiful idols of gods and goddesses such as that of Shiva, Radha-Krishna, Hanuman, Ganesh, Ram-Sita etc., artisans make products to be used in office, home and kitchen. They make simple and elegant forms like pen holders, paper weights, bookracks, card holders, ash trays, napkin holder, spoon holders, toothpick holders, storage jars, coaters, dinner sets, chaklas and belans, cups, saucers, serving-trays, candle-stands, photo frames, mirror frames, usher bowls, soap dish, soap dispenser, incense stick holders, flower pots, jewellery boxes etc.
Marble painting: A very unique feature of marble sculptures of Jaipur is painting on marble. Embossed and golden foil worked marble painting is done on beautifully carved figures. Marble paintings are adorned with Meenakari, embossed and kundan work.
Even as the bazaar continues to dwell in the narrow lanes of the heart of the city, a considerable number of workshops have been moved to the outer parts. This is a result of a government initiative to check on the noise pollution (caused by the hammering, machinery used to drill and chisel the boulders) and dust levels that harm human health. Marble otherwise is quite an eco friendly material. With the transportation becoming an easier facility, the demand for these marble splendours has only increased.
The stone powder left from buffing gets mixed into the air around and slowly starts causing breathing and lung problems to the craftsmen and others around. This too is another reason why they have been shifted away from the centre of the city.
Safed Pathar (White Marble): Marble is the main raw material and is available in many shades and qualities across Rajasthan. Ajmer, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Udaipur represent the hub of marble in the state. The finest quality marble in the country is mined at Makrana. They are mined in the form of big boulders. The quality of the marble is defined by its whiteness and density. The less porous marble is more superior in quality and hence more expensive. Since the best of the marbles are exported so the artisans have moved to other options. They use a super white stone procured from Vietnam. This stone is imported to Rajasthan and then the artisans buy it from big suppliers/sellers. The rate starts from 1 lakh/ton and increase with the fineness and quality. Artisans buy marble from Alwar, Makrana or Ambaji.
Varak (Silver and Gold Foil): Varak is used for applying on the idols. Jewelleries and borders of cloth are ornamented with real or artificial Varak. This is applied with the help of chemicals.
Acrylic or Oil Paints: Chemical colours are used to paints floral patterns on the products as a substitute to gold, silver and other precious stones.
Precious stones: A lot of colourful precious stones are used for inlay work. These stones are cut and the artisans themselves do the inlay work.
Regmaal (Sandpaper): Sand paper is used for smoothening/polishing the rough surface in order to give the final touches to the carved pieces.
Wax Polish: Once the product is made it is polished with wax. Marble is a porous stone therefore to prevent it from absorbing any liquid it is polished wax.
Araldite: Araldite is used to stick the broken pieces together. It is available easily in the market.
Gheru (Red Soil): This is used for marking on the marble while finishing. Once the product finished it is rubbed and washed off.
The waste which comes out during stone sculpting is usually pieces of stone from the initial cutting out of the form and then lots of powder from buffing. The smaller pieces are usually thrown away but the ones a little bigger in size are used in making small products. The powder, though, gets mixed into the air mostly and the rest is thrown away.
The tools required for carving are few and simple and were initially custom made by the blacksmiths in Alwar. Today these tools are easily available in market.
Hatodi (Hammer): The hammers of different sizes are used for different purposes. They are used to hit the chisel for carving. The woodenhead hammer is used for soft strokes to get fine details. The ones with big metal heads are used for initial removing of the stone. Later small head hammers are used for detailed and intricate works/ motifs.
Chheni (Chisel): An iron tool with sharp and flat-edge is used initially for removing unwanted material to get a rough outline on the stone. Two types of chisels; flat and round headed are used for specific purposes. Round chisel is used for minute or detailed work- usually for carving ornaments, face, eyes etc.
Drills: Drills are used to carve out fine folding of the garments and other facial expressions. Mainly sophisticated machine tools are used, as they are durable and safe.
Planer: This is used for smoothening the rough edges, whenever required.
Files: Stone filers are used to file the surfaces. These files come in various grades of roughness.
Buffing Machine: This is used for finally smoothening/ polishing the surface. It has rings of stitched cloths of different grades of fineness.
Aari (Saw): This is used for cutting the stone slabs into the required sizes.
Lathe Machine: These are huge machines used to make circular, cylindrical or hemispherical stone products.
Prakaar (Compass): Compass is used for making marks on the stone surface.
Scale: A Scale is used for measuring and marking.
Right Angle: This is used to make perfect angles on the stone for making cuboids or cube.
Brush: Brush is used for cleaning the stone powder, which collects on the outer surface of the statue while carving out details.
Blower: This is used to blow away the stone dust from the statue especially from those parts where the brush cannot reach or when dust collects on the inner parts of the statue.
Pencil or Markers: Pencils and markers are used to sketch rough outlines on the stone before the chiselling process starts.
Rubber Pipe: This is used to supply water to the stone and machine whiles the drilling work takes place. Water helps in preventing the dust to fly.
Once religious sculptures of Gods and Goddesses are sculpted, they are not supposed to be laid down anywhere between the point where it has been sculpted and the temple shrine or the particular place of enshrinement. It is also said that before the sculpting of the idol begins, there is a proper ceremony where the sculptor seeks Brahma’s permission to create idols of Gods and Goddesses and right where the ceremony happens, the base stone out of which the sculpture is carved is placed there.
1) The two-dimensional drawings of the imagined sculpture are first sketched on a boulder, roughly the size of the sculpture, with some margin for wastage.
2) The sketch is translated on stone using a scale, compass and pencil. Artists inheriting generations of practice and command over their dexterous hands can directly start sculpting idols of Shiva, Radha-Krishna, Hanuman, Ganesh or any other deity, without the need of any guiding tools.
3) With the process of Hammering and chiselling around the sketch, the extra material is done away with.
4) To reinforce the finer features like facial expressions, folds of the skin or fabric etc., a sketch is drawn again on the stone. Eventually, the image is chiselled to perfection three-dimensionally. In years following 1980, eroding hand machines have been employed to ease the labour of chasing, filing and finishing.
5) A mixture of powdered red stone and water (gheru) is then applied on the marble sculpture, essentially to demarcate the regions on which finishing is pending from the rest of the stone canvas.
6) Finally the most intricate features like the pattern on the fabric, the design of the ornaments, are engraved into the stone. The sculpture is roughly polished using a long stick made of porous sandstone (bhatti). This erases the redness caused by gheru and indicates the finishing of the area. The eventual finishing and polishing is done using buffing machines.
7) In close vicinity of this lane, is the painter’s lane, where all the sculptures are finely coloured using a combination of acrylic colours and oil paints. Painters often point out that as against real gold and silver cladding during the times of Maharajas, the sculptures are now covered with thinner foils of the metal, used to highlight areas with ornamentation
List of craftsmen.