Stonework in India

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In India, stone monuments, sculpture and carvings are fairly common. These are magnificent structures of sublime beauty and grandeur reflecting perfect symphony between their architecture and sculpture. Beautiful specimens of stone carving can be found in the temple towns of India, particularly those in South India. These carvings use a variety of stones, ranging from soft-brittle sandstone and patchy red stone to hard granite. The craftsmen also mould images of deities in various sizes and postures and utensils of all kinds.

The glory of stonework is truly revealed in sculpture and architectural facades. Sculptures of the Mauryan period, Buddhist carvings at Bharhut and Sanchi and the rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora and Khajuraho have no parallels. In Tamil Nadu, the stapathis are engaged in the temple construction and repair works in Thanjavur, Tiruchirapalli, Mahabalipuram, Ramanthapuram, Kanyakumari and other places. The stone carving tradition in Himachal Pradesh is aptly displayed by the giant monolithic carving of the rock-cut temple at Masrur in Kangra district.

The inlay of colourful stones on marble and sandstone surfaces is characteristic of the Mughal period, the most beautiful example of which is Itmad-ud-Daulah’s tomb near Agra. Agra is famous for its marble work, especially models of Taj Mahal. In the marble inlay work of Agra, floral, trellis, creeper and geometric patterns are carved on to the creamy-white marble surface, and semi precious stones set into it in the manner of damascene work. The white Makrana marble (sange malmal) of Rajasthan has a great demand as a building and decorative stone. Jaipur is another area that is known for its marble articles.

Vessels for storage, bowls and simply ornamented single-wick lamps are some of the common stone products of Tamil Nadu. Orissa’s popular stoneware articles include black stone bowls and plates, multi-coloured stone statuettes and delicate soapstone articles. Red sandstone is widely available in Rajasthan and it encourages the making of a host of everyday articles and ornamental stonework. In Gujarat and Rajasthan the sculptures and stone workers have adopted the Hindu and Jain tradition of temple architecture and image making. Hundreds of artisans in Gujarat are engaged in the art of cutting and polishing semi-precious stones. In Bihar, the black stone is used for making everyday utensils.

Jhansi in Bihar is known for its lampshades, incense stick stands and other products made out of a dark brown stone called sange-rathek. Midnapur in West Bengal is famous for its phyllite stoneware produced by the karga craftsmen. Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh is noted for its stone carving works carried out by the raidas community. Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh is famous for a number of small greenstone items like animals, boxes, trays, etc.

The stone carvers in Himachal Pradesh produce several artifacts of domestic use like the traditional stoves (angithi), circular pots for storing (kundi), pestle and mortar (dauri danda), millstones (chakki) and other things. The centres of sculpting in Himachal are concentrated mainly in Mandi, Chamba, Kinnaur and the Shimla Hills.

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