Here, Hindu gods idols are chiselled by members of various faiths
At the world-famous sculpture town of Mamallapuram, formerly Mahabalipuram, the sculpting business transcends...
At the world-famous sculpture town of Mamallapuram, formerly Mahabalipuram, the sculpting business transcends the religious divide. Members of three major religions - Hinduism, Christianity and Islam - are involved in the business of sculpting and trading in idols of Hindu gods and also other items, industry officials said.
Located on the Coromandel coast, Mamallapuram, sporting the Unesco World Heritage Site tag, is famous for its stone carvings and stone temples of the Pallava dynasty period. A majority of the monuments at this town were built during the period of Narasimhavarman-I during the period 630-670 AD.
But Mamallapuram is not just an open-air museum of stone cut sculptures. It is also home to a vibrant stone sculpting industry catering to different segments of the domestic and overseas markets.
"There are about 150 businessmen involved in this business in Mamallapuram. There will be about 2,000 workers in their establishments," said P. Boopathi, Proprietor of BS Arts.
There is also the Government College of Architecture and Sculpture in the town. "We do traditional and modern sculptures. Traditional type includes idols of Hindu Gods for temples," Boopathi said.
One can see showrooms of these sculptures while walking down the Five Rathas Road. Mayan Handicrafts promoted by M Durairaj and Boopathi's BS Arts are notable players in this business.
Industry officials broadly divide the market segment into temples, institutions (hotels, resorts, colleges, government and others), residential (individual homes and apartments).
According to Boopathi, the institutional segment - hotels, resorts, educational institutions - are the new market segment logging good growth for traditional and modern sculptures. Boopathi said that exports mostly happened through word of mouth, after tourists who visit Mamallapuram purchased or saw the ready-made sculptures.
"Exports happen to countries like Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Mauritius where there is a sizeable Tamil population," he said. Boopathi said, orders from these countries are for Hindu God idols like Amman, Ganesh/Vinayaka and Murugan.
"There will be more orders for Murugan idols from Malaysia while the orders from Mauritius will be more for Amman (village deity of Shakti) and Village Gods. But in a Hindu temple there will be a need for idols for different Gods," Boopathi said.
In the domestic market, the demand is for idols of Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Ganesh and Mariamman, Boopathi added. Most of the temple idol orders are tender based and they are mostly originated from sthapathis/temple architects.
As regards the home segment, there is demand for garden sculptures and wall fittings. "For Vaastu purposes the North Indians buy the tortoise which is also one of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu," Boopathi said. Some of the fast-moving sculptures are Buddha, Ganesh, Shiv Lingams.
"Sculptures of Buddha are fast moving the residential segment. In Mamallapuram outlets there will be over 1,000 Buddha sculptures, more than the Ganesh sculptures," Mayan Rajesh of Mayan Handicrafts told this correspondent.
The eight feet Buddha sculpture kept at shore temple complex in connection with Chinese President Xi Jinping's impending visit is supplied by Mayan Handicrafts. He said sculptures measuring 1.5 ft to 3 ft are moving fast. "Panel sculptures are also in good demand from the residential segment," R. Veerakumar, Manager, Mayan Handicrafts said.
"There is also good demand for stone mandapams and idols of Gods from the residential apartment segment. This gives a real temple-like feeling than mandapams built with bricks and cement. We can also close the three sides with stones," M Siddik of Sun Arts told this correspondent. Siddik is the only Muslim in Mamallapuram who is involved in this trade.
One of the basic tests to ascertain the quality of a stone is by pouring water over it and check for minute cracks. "There is also the risk of breakage even when the sculpture is about to be completed. Then it is a total loss for us," industry officials said.
According to them, Tamil months Thai to Chithirai or January to May are good months for business and after that orders slowly go down. The last three months in a year are dull months for business.
The industry players have a stock of several sculptures even though they are in a niche segment and their products are not fastmoving ones. So why do they lock up working capital? "People like to buy readymade ones. Even in the case of temple orders, they want readymade idols and don't have the time to wait for us to chisel one," Rajesh said.
One interesting facet that is seen from the industry players is that they are not seeing marketing of their services and products in a proactive manner. "Ours is a niche customer segment. They know about us and our products. We do interact with architects," Boopathi said.
Added Rajesh: "Here it is cash and carry. In case of other segments like hotels we have to wait several months for payments. We are made to wait for long time at architect's offices when we approach them."
Industry players say that business is good and they are not into online sales. One of the major problems faced by the sector is the availability of stones-blue metal- at reasonable rates.
Industry officials complain about the rising stone prices."We get stones from Kancheepuram. If there is a quarry for our segment it will be better for the industry. The Tamil Nadu government should look into this," Boopathi said.