Sculpting Magic
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Sculpting Magic

February 16, 2024

Mysuru has long been renowned worldwide for its vibrant Dasara celebrations. However, now, for sometime to come, Mysuru will also be known as the birthplace of acclaimed sculptor who carved ‘Balak Ram,’ all thanks to the talented artist Arun Yogiraj, a third-generation sculptor from Mysuru.

Arun’s remarkable achievements have made Mysureans proud and has also solidified our city’s reputation as an abode of art and culture.

Arun’s three notable sculptures — the statues of Adi Shankaracharya in Kedarnath, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at India Gate in New Delhi, and now, Balak Ram in Ayodhya — stand as a testament to his exceptional skill and dedication.

Star of Mysore Managing Editor Vikram Muthanna spoke to Arun Yogiraj about his sculpting journey. Excerpts…

Star of Mysore (SOM): You have three prestigious sculptures in India. How did you get a breakthrough into North India as not many decision-makers there would know about artisans from the South?

Arun Yogiraj: Our biggest drawback is that we are far away from Delhi and getting access to decision-makers is not easy. I was able to get access to Delhi through the statue of Adi Shankaracharya, commissioned by Jindal Steel Works (JSW) through a CSR fund.

The company had taken up the restoration works of Adi Shankaracharya’s Samadhi, which was damaged in floods. JSW contacted various States asking for names of stone artists.

In Karnataka, they approached Dr. Mohanrao B. Panchal, Head, Department of Visual Arts, Kannada University, Hampi, who referred the names of five artists and I was one among them.

The company asked the artists to submit a 2-foot tall model of Shankaracharya. The models were presented to Prime Minister Modi and he liked my model. Later, I received a call informing me that my model was selected and was asked to sculpt the bigger statue.

Arun Yogiraj gifting miniature statue of Netaji to PM Modi in Delhi on Apr. 5, 2022. MP Pratap Simha, who had co-ordinated the meeting, is also seen.

SOM: It is said, you almost didn’t get to sculpt Subhas Chandra Bose’s statue. What happened?

Arun Yogiraj: I was in discussion to sculpt Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s statue. In the meantime, a meeting with the Prime Minister was pending as the PM wanted to meet me personally after the installation of Adi Shankaracharya’s statue in Kedarnath.

The meeting kept getting postponed. So I requested our Mysuru-Kodagu MP Pratap Simha to help me.

Since I had agreed to sculpt the statue of Subhas Chandra Bose, I had sculpted a miniature stone idol of Netaji. By this time, Pratap Simha got an appointment with the PM. He then not only helped me carry the small statue of Netaji in the plane despite weight restrictions but also made me stay at his MP residence in Delhi.

During our meeting, PM Modi enquired about the progress of Netaji’s statue. I informed him that I had not received any work order and that some people were approaching me for subcontract work for Netaji’s statue! 

The PM was surprised and immediately instructed Union Minister Pralhad V. Joshi to set the matter right.

After this, Union Minister for Culture G. Kishan Reddy was summoned. Even he was shocked to learn that I had not received any work order. Both Pralhad Joshi and Pratap Simha followed up and finally, I received the work order on June 13, 2022.

If I had not spoken to our MP and had he not got the Prime Minister’s appointment immediately, I would have missed my chance to sculpt Netaji’s statue. It would have probably been sculpted by someone else and credit would have gone to some other person who didn’t even sculpt it as it would have been subcontracted.

How Arun Yogiraj got selected to sculpt Balak Ram

SOM: How did you get selected to sculpt Balak Ram’s idol?

Arun Yogiraj: It all started with the search for the artist in January 2023. Three sculptors from Karnataka and another from Rajasthan, who are known to me, were informed about the work. But I was not informed.

I was disappointed that even though I had completed two national projects (Netaji and Adi Shankaracharya), I was not informed. But I consoled myself saying that I had already completed two major national projects, so it’s okay.

But then in April 2023, a meeting was held at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) to finalise the artists who will sculpt Balak Ram. In that meeting, IGNCA Member-Secretary Dr. Sachchidanand Joshi, who had personally seen my work in Delhi, was surprised not to see my name in the list of artists shortlisted to sculpt Balak Ram. Dr. Joshi then asked the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust to invite me to immediately present my work.

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I was called overnight to Delhi. A few weeks later, 11 artists were shortlisted and three of them were finalised, I was one among them.

SOM: What style of sculpting did you decide on? 

Arun Yogiraj: I had to connect both North and South India and the black stone idol connects well with the Southern part. While sculpting the idol, I ensured that the jewellery was carved in Hoysala style. The attire was sculpted in  North Indian style and again the ‘kankana’ was sculpted in South style.

Lord Hanuman and Garuda have been sculpted in Tamil Nadu style. The Dashavathara has been sculpted with reference to North Indian temples. The Balak Ram idol is an amalgamation of the best Indian styles since the idol belongs to the entire nation.

Arun Yogiraj’s studio ‘Bramharshi Kashyapa Shilpakala Shala’ on Sahukar Chennaiah Road in Mysuru.

SOM: What was your routine in Ayodhya when you were sculpting? 

Arun Yogiraj: The first day of work began by offering ‘puja’ to the stone as per rituals. The sculpting works began with offering ‘shila puja’ and tying ‘kankana’ to our hand which restricts us from taking up other works until the completion of work in progress. I made sure the ‘kankana’ was also tied to the hammer that I used for sculpting the idol.

For us, it was only ‘Satwik’ food that was allowed to be consumed. We were provided with sprouts every day, as we needed a lot of protein to go with our physical work. We were also taught yoga but when my first idol of Balak Ram was rejected, I stopped yoga as I was working in double shifts to carve another one.

SOM: You said that your first idol was rejected. Can you explain?

Arun Yogiraj: The first sculpture was 70 percent complete when a certain test conducted turned negative. Periodic tests are conducted to see the integrity of the rock. Owing to the rejection of the first idol, I lost three months.

Later, I started to sculpt another idol in September with another stone, also brought from Mysuru. Initially, I felt a bit nervous as I had lost time but on the other hand, I got clarity of what I needed to create.

Arun Yogiraj at his workshop in Mysuru along with some of his team members who assisted him in sculpting the idol of Balak Ram.

Sculptor’s Studio in Mysuru

SOM: Tell us about your team which worked with you in Ayodhya.

Arun Yogiraj: I had my team members Nagaraju, Cheluvaraju, Siddaraju, Kumaresh and Jagadish, some of whom have worked with us for almost 30 years.

My team worked in batches, when one batch left after working on the pedestal, a new team would arrive to assist me in the design works.

SOM: The eyes of Balak Ram in some photos seemed to glow, is there some effect that you have given them?

Arun Yogiraj: There is no special effect given to the eyes. We apply ghee, honey and sugar to the eyes and cover them as part of the rituals. Some ghee and honey might have remained on the eyes on the day of consecration so maybe when they photographed it, light refraction may have given it a glow (laughs). On a serious note, we do not apply any chemicals, glass etc. It’s just an etched-stone effect.

SOM: Why did you use silver hammer & gold chisel to sculpt the eyes?

Arun Yogiraj: It is mentioned in Shilpashastra to use a silver hammer and golden chisel and a particular time (muhurta) is fixed for ‘Nethramilana’ (carving of eyes). In the case of Balak Ram, the muhurta was fixed by the head priest Ganesha Acharya.

Before sculpting the eyes, I took a dip in the Sarayu River, which was about 4-5 degrees Celsius, and visited the Hanuman Garhi (Hanuman Temple) before sculpting the eyes. We first inscribe the ‘beejakshara mantra’ on the uncarved blank eyes before we begin sculpting the eyes.

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SOM: What is the actual height of the Balak Ram idol and what was the height and weight of the stone?

Arun Yogiraj: The height of the idol is 77 inches, 42 inches in width and it is 2-ft in thickness. The rock that was used was about 9½ ft in height and weighed 13,000 kgs. Now the idol weighs about 2,000 kgs.

Star of Mysore Managing Editor Vikram Muthanna in a tete-a-tete with sculptor Arun Yogiraj at his studio on Sahukar Chennaiah Road in Mysuru.

SOM: Was there a regular inspection while you were working on the idol?

Arun Yogiraj: There were regular inspections being done for all three idols sculpted by different artists. The Committee Members were sensible as they used to visit all three sculptors without giving room for any suspicion of favouritism.

SOM: Apart from inspection by the Committee, we heard there was regular inspection by a monkey.

Arun Yogiraj: There were a lot of monkeys in Ayodhya near the studio where we were sculpting. But every day, a monkey would visit the studio between 5 pm and 6 pm and bang the door. I am not sure whether it was the same monkey though. I even have the video of the monkey roaming around in the studio. I don’t want to give it a connotation that it was a ‘divine visit.’ But all the same, it was an interesting coincidence.

SOM: Is there a copyright on Balak Ram? Can you produce miniatures to sell?

Arun Yogiraj: Actually, I told the Trust Members to copyright Balak Ram. Then MP Pratap Simha had the idea that if Ayodhya Trust can have the copyright and make miniatures of Balak Ram, it should tie up with the Karnataka Government to send black stone from Mysuru from which it can make these miniatures rendering them more authentic and worthy of the copyright.

Pratap Simha felt if this is done, then the Ayodhya Trust will get funds, sculptors will get continuous work, Karnataka will have a new revenue stream and Mysuru will also become famous as the Balak Ram miniature models made using the stone from Mysuru will be in millions of households across the nation and world.

Bringing Stones to Life

SOM: Now that you have achieved a great feat, there must be a lot of demand for your work. How are you managing it?

Arun Yogiraj: I have indeed been getting a lot of orders from across the world, especially from the USA and South Africa, both for idols and other works.

But I know my capacity and I cannot fulfil so many orders. So, I tell customers that it takes quite some time for me to complete a statue. If they are comfortable with that, then I take up the work else I provide them the contact of other artists. Also, it is good to have the work of different artists.

SOM: Are you running an institution to guide budding sculptors?

Arun Yogiraj: Yes, I am running a school called Bramharshi Kashyapa Shilpakala Shala, which now has 7 full-time students and during summer camps, children join us to learn line drawing, pottery and other arts.

I am planning to construct two additional rooms in my studio for the benefit of the students. Currently, I am not charging any fees because I want to give back to the profession which has given me so much.

SOM: Who should our readers contact if they are interested in learning sculpting?

Arun Yogiraj: Interested can contact my brother Yeshwanth on Mob: 99451-51505.

Making Mysuru proud…

For the foreseeable future, Arun Yogiraj will continue to enjoy widespread popularity as the man who sculpted the idol of Balak Ram. Despite his acclaim, Arun Yogiraj remains remarkably humble and transparent in his artistic approach, the qualities that undoubtedly contribute to his mastery.

Michelangelo, the great Italian sculptor, once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Arun Yogiraj not only discovers it, he seems to almost bring it to life. He certainly brought a sense of divinity to the Balak Ram statue and in doing so, brought a lot of attention to Mysuru, reminding the world that our city still has it — artists and culture.

[Pic. by M.N. Lakshminarayana Yadav]

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