Showcasing Indian art on sand

April 1st, 2008 - 10:49 am ICT by admin  

By Jatindra Dash
He is the man behind crafting an abiding art form on shifting sands. Sudarsan Patnaik from India’s eastern state of Orissa is only 31 but is singularly responsible for an entire genre of art - painstakingly creating not sandcastles but lavish sculptures that range from the contemporary to the classic. His open air Golden Sand Art Institute in the picturesque coastal city of Puri has already produced 75 students, including those from Britain, the United States, Germany and Italy. And though the much awarded Patnaik is the most well known, India, he estimates, has about 2,000 sand artists - and counting.

The saga in sand, which has led to so many others dabbling in the form, started with the young Patnaik playing in the beaches of his hometown Puri just like so many others. But they stopped as they grew up while he continued, his fingers gradually getting the dexterity to use the grains of sand to make images that lived on in memory, if not for posterity.

“I was around seven years old when I started creating images mostly of Hindu deities like the gods Shiva and Jagannath,” Patnaik remembers, shutting his eyes as his childhood comes back in a rush.

“I used to come to the beach at about 2 a.m. when the entire town was asleep and return home after staying till 6 a.m. I was doing various kinds of household work for neighbours because my parents were poor and they were unable to maintain a family of four members,” he recollects.

The dire straits meant that he discontinued school after Class 7.

This is a story of unique, in your face creativity that started with a sense of deprivation.

“Although I stood first in painting competitions organised in the school and elsewhere I could never pursue it because I could never afford to buy paint. Sand is free and I decided to fulfil my passion with it,” he says.

Recognition came when local newspapers started carrying pictures of the startlingly intricate sculptures. Then started invitations to international championships, but there were no sponsors.

“Although I have been getting invitations since 1993 to participate in international championships, I was not able to attend them because nobody was willing to sponsor my trips.

“I met rich persons and government officials for help but it did not yield any result. Finally, in 1997, a government official helped and the tourism department sponsored my trip. I created a sand sculpture in the world travel market festival at London.”

There was no looking back after that for the diminutive youth who has since participated in more than 50 international competitions and festivals, winning accolades and many awards.

He now travels to more than 10 countries every year, winning gasps of admiration for his works — the repertoire includes a sand replica of India’s famous 17th century Taj Mahal, former Iraq president Saddam Hussein, Santa Claus, the devastation caused by disasters like the tsunami and cyclone and even the endangered Olive Ridley turtles.

Then there is the entire range from mythology. In 2000, Patnaik created a 30 ft high sculpture for a championship in Hardelot, France.

“I was emotional because it was my first tallest sculpture. Although I was afraid initially, I somehow managed to create a sculpture of ‘Kaliya Dalana’, where Hindu god Krishna is shown dancing over the heads of a snake.”

As in the finest art forms, the tools are rudimentary.

Patnaik uses only his fingers. His thumbnails are three-and-a-half inches and his fingernails are about an inch long, useful in creating the designs.

“Earlier, I did sculptures using one tonne of sand. Now, I use more than 200 tonnes. There are tremendous risks involved when you use more sand because there are chancels that your sculpture may collapse,” he says.

“When he went to the beach everyday, people stopped him because they thought it could never earn him a livelihood. But he has proved everybody wrong,” says neighbour Natraj Deb Goswami.

Patnaik’s mother Sarojini adds feelingly: “What my son is doing is great. I never thought he would one day bring the country name and fame. I am so proud of him.”

The special edition of the Limca Book of Records published last year, “India Extraordinaire: 60 years, 60 luminaries”, describes Patnaik as one of the 60 stalwarts who have made India proud with their accomplishments.

He was facilitated in New York along with steel tycoon L.N. Mittal and film director Mira Nair.

But the celebrity status has come after a long struggle and Patnaik, who wants to propagate the art form in a bigger way, says he doesn’t want anyone to struggle like him.

“Nobody should face the kind of struggle I did. I want to build a park in Puri that will be the world’s first and biggest sand art park,” he says.

Luckily for the others who have decided to pursue their urge for creativity in sand, Patnaik has already fought the war of acceptance after more than 25,000 sand images.

Sand art is believed to have started in 14th century AD by great Oriya poet Balaram Das.

From then to now, it has evolved with Patnaik following in the footsteps on the sand. And many hundreds in turn following him.

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