Giving ‘Birth’ To Adi Shankaracharya: Sculptor Arun Yogiraj Shares The Journey Of The Statue That Is Being Installed At Kedarnath

by Harsha Bhat - Nov 5, 2021 01:17 PM +05:30 IST
Giving ‘Birth’ To Adi Shankaracharya: Sculptor Arun Yogiraj Shares The Journey Of The Statue That Is Being Installed At Kedarnath Sculptor Arun Yogiraj and Adi Guru Shankaracharya.
  • Giving 'birth' to the 12-foot stone sculpture of Adi Guru Shankaracharya was an intense journey of creating history.

A journey he made on foot a few centuries ago from down south to the Himalayan hills had changed the spiritual fabric of this civilisation forever. Once again, a journey has been made where Adi Shankara took form in southern India and travelled to where he was seen last in person — behind the shrine of Kedarnath.

A large 12-foot stone sculpture of Adi Guru Shankaracharya made its journey from the workshop of sculptor Arun Yogiraj in Mysuru’s Saraswatipuram to the Samadhi sthal in Kedarnath (by road until Chamoli Airbase from where it was airlifted by the Indian Air Force to Kedar) where it will be installed and dedicated to the nation tomorrow (5 November) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But for its maker Arun Yogiraj, it has been a much more intense journey of being able to create history, especially given that he, at one point in life, hadn’t thought of taking up the tools that he inherited.

Sculptor Arun Yogiraj.
Sculptor Arun Yogiraj.

Prime Minister Modi had picked Yogiraj for the task from among various contenders from across the country. “This was a huge responsibility,” says Yogiraj, as the Prime Minister himself was involved with "every single aspect of the making and would constantly be updated about the progress of the same".

While Yogiraj had made a model measuring two feet, he contested for the said task, and once chosen he undertook a study of statues across south India to understand key aspects and dimensions of this larger-than-life embodiment of a key spiritual icon of the nation.

He also sought suggestions from the Shringeri Mutt, the Shankara Mutt in Mysuru and other religious sources.

While there were specifications from the PMO for the statue they ‘gave him the freedom’ he sought to make suitable changes as per his research findings.

The sculpture has been chiselled out of ‘Krishna shile’ or the black chlorite schist which “we have used for thousands of years to sculpt here” and is said to withstand all the forces of nature, and sourced from H D Kote in Karnataka.

“Its been nine months of sculpting, since it was commissioned, almost like giving birth,” says the fifth generation sculptor, whose father and grandfather were both patronised by the royals of Mysuru. For its much more than a task accomplished, it is my grandfather’s words or say prophesy coming true more than three-and-a-half decades since he envisioned me taking his legacy ahead.

Arun Yogiraj and his father, Yogiraj Shilpi, at work.
Arun Yogiraj and his father, Yogiraj Shilpi, at work.

His father Yogiraj Shilpi, was among the eight children of B Basavanna Shilpi, a Mysuru palace artist and Yogiraj, one among his 17 grandchildren. His grandfather had worked on the Gayatri Temple, the Bhuvaneshwari Temple and similar tasks commissioned by the palace. The idol of Kaveri on the Krishna Raja Sagar Dam was also a creation of his grandfather.

Basavanna Shilpi was among the first students of Shilpa Sri Siddhalinga Swami, sculptor to the royal family of Mysuru, who among others has also designed the domes of the Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru. Yogiraj’s grandfather joined his gurukula as a 10-year-old in 1931 and trained for the next 25 years under his guidance.

Yogiraj Shilpa with Pandit Nehru and Kofi Annan.
Yogiraj Shilpa with Pandit Nehru and Kofi Annan.

Arun recounts: “In 1953, after he came out of the mutt, he independently worked on the Gayatri temple as H H Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar gave him an opportunity,” which is the journey of breathing life into stones. Grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this historic feat, Arun says it is a tribute to the legacy he inherits.

Especially since he hadn’t taken to the tools naturally. Having excelled in his studies, Arun hadn’t fathomed that he would continue the saga with stones, and had obtained an MBA from Mysuru University in 2008, and joined a private company.

Young Arun with his grandfather and Mysuru Royal Palace Sculptor B Basavanna Shilpa.
Young Arun with his grandfather and Mysuru Royal Palace Sculptor B Basavanna Shilpa.

But the prophesy of his grandfather was destined to come true, he says. “Although I was a toddler, he had said that I would be the one picking up the tools and the one to carry forward his legacy and bring glory to his name” remembers Arun, saying "it is finally coming true after almost 37 years".

Arun quit his job, which he says "was not his cup of tea", picked up his tools and became full time sculptor since 2008.

"Until then my father would always muse about his father’s foretelling and wonder how it would be true given that I got my masters and took up a job," says Arun, remembering his ‘first and last guru’ who he lost in an accident recently, while he was away at the site of the statue’s installation in Kedarnath.

His only consolation is that his father saw the idol through its completion. "He shed tears when he saw the idol completed, saying I had preserved the legacy of his father," remembers Arun nostalgically, wishing that if fate had not intervened, he could have taken his father for the installation ceremony.

Among his works are the Mysuru’s famous 14.5-feet white marble stone sculpture of the Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar in Mysore, and the life-size White marble sculpture of Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the various statues at the railway station among various others.

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