Many traditional and contemporary products are carved out of stones in Gwalior. The sculptures of various deities are sculpted to perfection. Some sculptures are directly ordered by temple authorities for the installation at temples. These sculptures are also exported overseas. Ornamentation for buildings such as columns, fixtures, lattices, show pieces constitutes a significant part of stone carving production at Gwalior. Specific sculptures such as fountains, garden furniture and urban installations are also made by craftsmen. Stone carving has seeped into other uses such as intricately carved stationary items, kitchen utensils and photo frames. The new generations of craftsmen keep experimenting with the stone medium and contemporary designs, still the traditions of the age old craft are in kept intact.
Beautiful votive sculptures are hand-crafted out of stones in Gwalior. These are carefully chiseled to perfection according to the needs of the customers. The craftsmen sometimes bring in marble work or unfinished statues from Jaipur and chisel away their creativity on them. A craft that once covered the expanse of the kingdom is now confined to a street in Gwalior. A craftsman named Deepak Viswakarma who learnt the craft from his father, won a national award for his elegant stone sculptures.
Myths & Legends
Shilpaic tradition is an ancient tradition of stone carving and the stone carvers are called as Shlipkar. According to this tradition, stone is a living entity. The Shilpkar call it "Shakti Paravastu- which mean the "ultimate luminous substance-. Stone is believed to live longer than any other material on earth. As per Shilpaic tradition, there are three kinds of stone: one that produces a resonant sound like bell, another type of stone produces a long and slender note and the third type doesn't create any sound, hence it dampens the vibrations, these three types of stones are called male, female and the neutral one respectively.
The shastras (sacred texts) prescribe the male stone for carving male deities, the female stone for female deities and the neutral stone to build temples. When a carver carves a stone, a yogic intimacy develops between a stone carver and a stone; hence the shilpi that results is always joyous and imbibed with good spirit. It is also believed that a sad form or a sad shilpi has adverse effects on its worshiper. When these spiritual concepts are internalized by the artisan, this is when a sculptor gets converted into a sculpture and an architect becomes architecture. A great emphasis is put upon the moral code of sculptor, as he is the one who creates sacred forms through his thoughts.
Stone has withstood the corrosion of time and lived to tell the tale of many civilizations. Readily available, temperature resistant, strong and durable, stone was the first material to be used as tool or first material on which human race ever worked upon. The craft of stone carving is not novel in India but has attained different connotations, scales and uses over time. From the stone carvings in Indus valley civilization to the sculpted caves of Ajanta and Ellora (2) , stone carving in Gwalior is a craft passed on over generations. As most examples in history, whenever forts and palaces were commissioned, the materials at which land was naturally rich in, were put to use; in Gwalior too, the strong stone from the Vindhyachal ranges was transformed into architectural elements, sculptures and utilitarian objects. The craft saw its peak during the reign of Scindia dynasty(4) in 18th and 19th centuries. The Gwalior fort (1) built between the 8th to the 15th century was an architectural wonder. Mughal emperor Babur called it 'the pearl in the necklace of the forts of Hind'. The fort was a masterpiece in stone and houses various beautiful figures of gods, deities and mythical creatures. With various influences of the rulers and rulers which passed Gwalior, the craftsmen still continue this practice of sculpting gods and objects in a street called 'Gainda Waali Sadak' in Gwalior.
The craftsmen usually chisel out figures of various deities like the Shiva lingam, the goddesses or the meditative Budhha. The figures resemble and follow the style of the ones installed in the temples and palaces of yore. Slender chiseled and polished ornamented figures with traditional connotations are made. Stone latticework and small columns are also made, but nowadays these have become more of a decorative object than structural. The lattices have geometric motifs inspired mostly from Islamic patterns.
Automation techniques like Computer Numerical Control Systems (CNC) have made stone carving a mere industrial technique with fast and accurate results, this has brought steep fall in the rates of the sculptures. As craftsmen do not indulge in business dealings and confine themselves to the craft work, the most of the profit is snatched by the mediators. High price of raw materials also adds to the problems faced by the craftsmen.