Swamimalai in Thanjavur district is a place of pilgrimage, where devotees of Lord Muruga trek to visit one of the six abodes of this Tamil deity. It is also famous for its stapathis whose works could be seen in many temples and museums in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu as well as in art galleries abroad, wherever there are art lovers.
 
Idol worship is as old as the time, when man began to believe in supernatural powers. Relics of Indus valley civilization bear testimony to this fact. Over period of time, the forms of worship and the shape and look of idols changed and man began to create the gods and goddesses in their own image and a new form art was born.
 
Sculptors made the moulding and carving of statues in granite and metals a special spiritual task. And Thanjavur district had it own quota of such sculptors, who cast idols of metals, clay and granite, They had produced idols which had won the admiration of art lovers and the devotion of believers. This article deals with some of the structures that stand as living testimony to the power of the chisel.
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Thanjavur Big Temple
The Big Temple in Thanjavur, with its architectural elegance was built by a sculptor Veerachola Kunjaramalla Perunthagan, Thousand s of other sculptors were brought from Gingee in North Arcot to work with him to produce this marvel. These sculptors and architects gave shape to the spiritual dream of Emperor Raja Raja Chola.
 
The thousands of sculptures in stone temples, bronze idols, temple cars and other artistically created items speak of the greatness of a bygone era. After the work on the Big temple was complete these sculptors and architects proceeded to Gangaikonda Cholapuram where they built temples. They also built the Tharasuram temple and the one at Swamimalai.
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Sculptor Migration
In keeping with the belief that civilization sprouted on the banks of rivers, the rich alluvial soil of River cauvery which was available in abundance at Swamimalai attracted sculptors to this shrine town.
 

It is the descendants of these sculptors, who have made this tradition art form famous through out the world. Many of them are also descendants of Veerachola Kunjaramalla Pernuthatchan who built the Thanjavur Big Temple.

 

His descendants fourteenth in line are now upholding this tradition and are making this art form known worldwide. They are experts in creating exquisite models out of bronze and granite. They have also been invited to build temples and their stamp is clear in all their works. Even though there are any number of modern equipment which could make their task easy, they still resort to the ancient instruments like chisel and hammer to turn out their idols and other works of art.

 

Their contribution to art was recognized by the government of India which published some of their designs in the publication

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‘Census of India’ in 1961

During the reign of the Cholas, Chembian Madheviar Promoted the science of sculpture. Many idols were donated to temples during this period. This period was said to be the golden era of bronze casting But the industry began to wane and one again this artistry was given a new life by Kamala pathi Chattopathyaya from the North.

 

During the past 25 years a large number of bronze idols from Swamimalai are exported to the enshrined in the Hindu temple that are being built in foreign countries and also to be worshiped at homes. There are many texts which provide useful information of sculpture and bronze modeling. Thanjavur Saraswathi Mahal and Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam had also published a number of Books on these subjects.

 
Experts S. KARUNANIDHI STAPATHI and his sons KUBERAN STAPATHI and MOHANRAJ STAPATHI explained the process of moulding these statues and said this is not just and industry but an art that needs spiritual commitment and religious fervour
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P. Krishnaswamy
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