Colombo, May 11: The world-renowned sand sculptor Sudarsan Pattnaik, who is in the Sri Lankan capital to exhibit his mammoth reclining Buddha at the International Vesak celebrations on May 12, has been wedded to sand since the age of 8 and cannot think of a day when he will be divorced from it ,writes P.K.Balachandran in Daily Express.
“Sand is my life and dream,” the 40 year old pioneer of sand sculpting in India said as he worked on his reclining Buddha at the international Vesak exhibition grounds near the Sri Lankan parliament.
Asked if he would ever leave or diversify from sand sculpting to take to stone as a medium, Sudarsan’s answer was a firm “no”.
He has a philosophical, perhaps a Buddhist, rationale for working only on sand.
“ Sand sculpture, which lasts a week or so, shows the impermanence of things in life. Life is change and we have to be doing new things every now and then” he reasoned.
Featured in the Guinness Book of Records in February 2017 for building the world’s tallest sand castle measuring 48 feet and 8 inchs (14.84 metres) at the Puri beach in the Indian state of Odisha, Pattnaik has won innumerable international awards.
Many of these awards were “people’s choice prizes” based on voting by people at sand sculpture exhibitions in various parts of the world.
“Sand sculpture is an accepted art form in several countries, particularly the US, Russia, and Germany. I have visited more than 50 countries at the invitation of organizations to exhibit my work,” Pattnaik said.
He is India’s first sand sculptor and is perhaps the only known one from the Indian sub continent. The art form pioneered by him is widely appreciated but is yet to secure adherents and practitioner in significant numbers.
Although a water color painter to begin with, Sudarsan stumbled upon sand sculpting when family problems drove him to spend a lot of time on the beach in his home town of Puri. He was only 8 years old then, and like all kids of that age , he would build castles and other images with wet sand. To his surprise he found that passers by, tourists and pilgrims visiting the ancient Jagannath temple would stop and see his work and utter encouraging words.
“Family circumstances had forced me to stop my schooling with Grade 6 and to take up the work of a domestic servant. In my spare time, I would go to the beach and build sand castles, which to my astonishment, got appreciation while domestic work, heavy though it was, never did,” Sudarsan recalled.
Appreciation from foreign tourists was not only gratifying but proved to be useful later on in getting him international recognition. The encouragement he got, made him experiment with the art and the material he used. He gathered a lot of information on various types of sand and how they could be compacted and used.
He also experimented with themes boldly. While most traditional sculptors or image makers stuck to the tried and tested themes like Hindu gods and goddesses, Sudarsan chose socially and politically relevant themes, increasingly with a national and international flavor.
Well-timed sculptures on national and international themes done in a public place like the Puri beach attracted media attention both locally and internationally. International news agency photographers converged on the Puri beach to click his works. His sand sculptures got wide play in the media across the globe. Sudarsan Pattnaik and his sand icons son became internationally known. Invitations to participate in international competitions poured in.
“In fact, I was in Moscow before coming to Colombo and I had won a gold medal there,” Sudarsan said.
A campaigner for peace and harmony in India and the world, Sudarsan’s themes are meant to convey socially and politically useful messages.
“I have sculpted images to urge people to preserve the environment, eschew violence and respect women. I have done a sculpture urging India and Pakistan to settle their disputes peacefully and titled it: Bullets can’t bring permanent peace. In fact have done several sculptures calling for India-Pakistan understanding,” he said.
Sudarshan has sculpted leading personalities like Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Benazir Bhutto as his tribute to them. He has marked historically significant events like Barack Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize. He even sculpted Donald Trump when he was elected US President after a controversy-ridden campaign.
“I am not a political person,” Sudarsan insists. “My interest is in the promotion of peace, a good environment, social harmony, good health. I do not undertake political sculpting for money,” he explained.
Asked if he would do a sculpture condemning religious intolerance in India like lynching Muslims for eating beef, Sudarsan said he would rather call for communal harmony without going into specific controversial issues.
For a man from a small town with education only up to Grade 6, Sudarsan Pattnaik speaks good English.
“I picked it up by interacting with Western tourists on the Puri beach and honing it during his interactions at international conferences,” he said.
While and he and his work are well known in India, sand sculpting as such is not yet a popular art form in India. But to rectify this flaw, Sudarsan has set up a school in his native Puri.
“The school is on the beach, in the open. Five of my students have come with me to Colombo to build the statue of the reclining Buddha. I have had students from Sri Lanka too,” he said, confident that sand sculpting will live on in India.
(The featured picture at the top is that of the 40 ft reclining Buddha which Sudarsan Pattnaik sculpted for the 14 th. International Vesak Celebrations in Colombo between May 12 and 14)