The village Shivarapatna is named after Shivarama who was a palegaara / caretaker ruler who encouraged the art of stone carving. The tradition started with Basavalingacharya (the grandson of Shilpi Janakacharya, and a well-known sculptor in his own right), who was encouraged by Shivarama, to stay on at this village 1,000-1,100 years ago. Basavalingacharya’s descendants still live in Shivarapatna, practising the Shilpa shastra tradition that has been passed down generations. Shilpa shastra and Vastu-shastra are the main basis. They consider themselves to be descendents of Vishwakarma, the architect of the universe, and largely belong to the Brahmin community. Around 75% of the whole population works in the stone carving industry making it a major hub of stone and rock art. The major occupation of Shivarapatna are tailoring, farming, carpentering, labour work, steel work, stone carving and vegetable vending.
The art and the techniques of stone art were learnt entirely under the guidance of a guru. The early style was of Cholas and later period saw a mix of all the styles of South India. There is a variety in usage of stones, according to the requirement. The stones used are granite, soapstone, Mysore Stone, Marble and sandstone. Three basic categories of stones are identified- male, female and neuter gender, on the basis of sound quality of the stone which is indicative of its iron content.
Earlier, the sculptures produced were religious sculptures, such as idols and columns for temples. Today the sculptors carve secular statues and portraits. The themes also vary accordingly on the basis of the demand in the market. Apart from idol making the artists also make entrance and pillars of temples, Tulsi pots, halo like structure to be placed at the back of the head of deities.
The craftsmen have adapted to new types of raw material such as re-enforced plastic to make life size statues of politicians and saints. They not only make statues in stone but also carry out metal casting processes in their in-built foundries to meet requirements of the market. The craftsman makes his own polishing tools to fit different sculpting needs to retain the familiarity of touch with the raw material. The craftsmen make polishing tools out of sandstone of varying grain density, size and grips. This allows him to access deep corners and crevices easily. External material such as sandpaper needs to be handled with care and have a short shelf life compared to sandstone. The tools are designed to ergonomically fit their hand dimensions and require little effort to carve.
A normal three-foot figurine takes about three months to complete and has to go through five stages of painting, polishing, cutting, carving and chiseling. Bronze and brass casting needs a larger setup and more man-power; the stiff competition doesn’t leave much scope for diversion and expansion. The competition is so tight that craftsmen often charge much below the market rate just to have an edge over their neighbors and sell their products.
Today, the main customers remain the newly-built temples or the old ones that need renovation and the sculptors claim that the stone deities can stand the test of time efficiently. The metal craftsmen were conventionally goldsmiths, but changed their medium of work with the changing demands of time; they are referred to as Sthapati and are well-versed in the Shilpa shastra, as described in the Vedas. Previously the idols used to have a slightly curved posture and now they all stand upright. They have unique style of sculpting: male deities with robust busts and slender waists and female deities with broad shoulders and lots of ornamentation.
Good sculptors can make upwards of Rs. 15,000 per month on average, according to one of the artisans interviewed but this is largely dependent on seasonal demand and specific orders. Recently the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation Ltd announced a Shilpi Gram for the village. The Shilpi Gram will be a platform for sculptors to exhibit their works and will also have a training centre. The idea is to encourage the younger generation to stay loyal to the family tradition of becoming a shilpkar or sculptor.