Sculptors in Tamil Nadu are busy catering to a surge of requests from people wanting to enshrine their loved ones, not only in memories but also as life-size statues
When Karnataka businessman Shrinivas Gupta installed a wax statue of his departed wife at a housewarming ceremony held in August, in his hometown of Koppal, little did he imagine that his endeavour would spark a spurt in demand for similar statues in faraway Madurai.
Shrinivas had employed the service of a Bengaluru-based sculptor for the statue that went viral on social media.
When Madurai-based entrepreneur C Sethuraman wished to fill the void in his life following the passing of his wife Pichaimaniammal, he contacted the same sculptor, inspired by Shrinivas’ viral story, only for his request to be turned down. This, however, worked in favour of JET Prasanna, a graduate of the Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai, who took up the job of creating a six feet tall statue and delivering it within a fortnight, in time for the 30th day ritual Sethuraman had organised for his late wife.
Prasanna used fibre, glass and rubber to make the statue, which was also shared widely on social media. Says Prasanna, “People now call me and share how much they miss their dear ones and express confidence in me to make a statue in their likeness,” adding, “I took an order from a man in Kalpakkam who lost his wife to COVID-19 in August. Whenever he calls me, he breaks down over phone and says that he can’t wait for his wife to return home.”
Statues for all
Prasanna is now besieged by similar orders. For instance, a girl whose wedding is scheduled for November 18 wants a statue of her father made so that she can feel his presence during the ceremony. An NRI customer wants life size statues of his parents sculpted whilst another customer from Uthangudi, near Madurai, wants one of his wife sculpted to fit in the car seat, so that he can also ‘travel’ with the statue without missing her presence. “I am working on four orders at the moment,” he says.
Prasanna requires upto 12 days to finish a statue. To create the lookalikes, he uses silicon variants and fibre. “Silicon is best to recreate the eyes, nose, cheeks and the finer lines on the face,” he says. His statues cost upwards of ₹2.5 lakh.
Earlier this month, Prasanna delivered a four-feet tall statue of a woman who died aged 101 last year. The order was placed by her son, Muthu Meenakshi Sundaram, a retired bank employee. “My mother now has a permanent place in the puja room of our ancestral house in Goripalayam,” says Muthu.
Another person who has immortalised their parent in a similar manner is Thambi Balan. His father Kannu Servai lived to be 96, but for Thambi, making a statue was his way of commemmorating a man who single-handedly supported his family of nine children with his income as an agri worker. “It feels like my father is back; he sits in the main hall in his favourite corner and guards over us,” says Thambi.
Statues have always been popular in Tamil Nadu, a State where these structures hold a position of cultural significance considering the number of political leaders and figures of the past, including actors, who have been immortalised this way.
“Sculptures are luxury products. These are often used as status symbols by the rich and famous,” says ‘Stone’ Pandi, a Madurai-based sculptor for whom sculpting has been the family trade for over five generations.
He exports at least one statue every two months to his clients in the US, Germany, France, Malaysia and Singapore. Based on request, Pandi moulds his statue using granite, teakwood, mixed metal and fibre. Each sculpture costs in the ₹1-10 lakh bracket. Pandi adds that he does not use silicon because it has a shorter shelf life and requires high maintenance.
One of his recent orders was from Madurai-based AIADMK party member, Suresh Kumar aka Kremmer Suresh. “He gave me an old, faded black-and-white photo of his mother with his brother and himself. He wanted to recreate a childhood memory as a statue. I took it up as a challenge and made a statue of the mother holding the older son by hand, and carrying the younger son on her hip,” says Pandi.
Whilst there is a surge in people wanting to immortalise their departed ones, there are also people like A Nallathambi, a 60-year-old rag picker, who poured his life’s savings into crafting a statue… of himself. Nallathambi’s likeness, which one could easily mistake for an ancient Hindu king, stands on a pedestal on the Vazhapadi-Bellur village road near Athanurpatty, Salem. The sculptor behind the statue, G Thangadurai of Okkarai, Tiruchi, says, “His request was unique and I didn’t want to disappoint him.” Nallathamabi is happy with the finished product, and has planned an unveiling ceremony soon.