The sculptor from Jaffna believes that art is not limited to one religion and that anyone can attempt to show their spirituality through a form of art
Selecting the suitable wood for a sculpture is one of the most important steps in creating wood sculpture with a good finish. Sometimes this takes a reasonable amount of time too compared to the time spent on carving one sculpture. Compared to the period Nadaraja Satkurunathan began working as a sculptor, he says that it is difficult to find wood material for his sculptures today. He mostly uses jackfruit timber for his work.
“Sometime back, finding wood for my work was no trouble. We don’t have as much as trees we had back then. And also, you need to have a permit to get the timber required. Sometimes it’s a great difficulty,” Satkurunathan said, speaking to The Nation at his workshop located in Thirinalveli, Jaffna.
“The demand for sculptures has significantly become greater since the end of the armed conflict,” he further said. “Now that the temples destroyed during the conflicted era are being renovated, the artists in the area are loaded with work,” he added.
Along with the difficulty of finding wood, Satkurunathan said that the demand for his work has also increased during the recent years taking up more effort to find material. However, with the help of his two sons, he manages to run a successful business in the Northern Province.
Satkurunathan recalled how he learnt the skill of carving to make a dull chunk of wood in to a lively statue. His father was a carpenter and as a child, he spent a reasonable amount of time at his father’s workshop, observing him and helping him with small chores. He fell in love with his father’s work and he himself wanted to practice this profession.
Yet, his mother knew that her son had more in his blood than to become a carpenter. She had always embraced the artistic skills in little Satkurunathan that his drawings always amazed her. When he started showing interest in carpentry, his mother encouraged his father to send him to a master who can help him mastered both art and carpentry.
“This is how I was sent to my guru, Jeevarathnam, to learn about sculptures,” he recalled. Jeevarathnam Master was a well-reputed artist from the same village. Satkurunathan said that he helped him sharpen his drawing skills while teaching him to carve wood.
“Unfortunately, Jeevarathnam Master is no more,” he said. If he would have been there, he would be proud of the success of his student today.
Next year Satkurunathan will turn 60. He had started sculpting as a profession when he was only 18 years old. Therefore for almost four decades he has mastered his skills and has offered his services to the people who come to him with requests. He not only takes up their requests, but also does his best to produce fine quality work that he doesn’t want to see his customers dissatisfied. This is also why he has earned respect in the Northern Province as a sculptor that people call him ‘Guru’ out of respect.
Yet, he says that he can’t work as hard as when he was 18 years old although he is wiser and understands more about the sculptures now. This is why he decided to get his sons to join him at his workshop. They have their dreams too, but they consider helping out their father is more important than chasing their dreams. When Satkurunathan completes a sculpture, his sons help him with painting it and doing the final touchups.
Among his work, the majority are sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses. His large collection of hand-carved and hand-painted Hindu wood sculptures range from the vibrant colors of Hindu temples to natural wood colors. Including Gods Shiva, Ganesh, Lakshmi, Vishnu, Hanuman and Goddesses Parvati and Lakshmi, all the Hindu deities come to life in Satkurunathan’s fine wooden sculptures.
Being a Hindu himself, he considers having to carve out the figures of Gods in wood as a blessing he has received. He uses drawings or pictures of the Gods to get an idea, but, mostly, he said that he uses the descriptions in the Hindu mythological stories. He also spoke proudly of the statues he carved of Buddha and Jesus. He believes that art is not limited to one religion and that anyone can attempt to show their spirituality through a form of art.
Apart from the religious sculptures, he also loves carving human figures and animals. “Each time I see a chunk of wood, a human or animal shape unfolds,” Satkurunathan says, showing his impressive collection of work he has saved in a picture album. His living room is also surrounded by his finished and unfinished wooden sculptures. He was also very proud of the sculpture of cricketer Kumar Sangakkara which he carved for a cricket tournament. He reminisced that he has special enthusiasm to finish Sanga’s sculpture because his whole family adores cricket.
He believes that being a sculptor helps him serve his religion. Also being able to serve the temples brings him honor. Only second to the iron sculptors, who make tools which are used in wood sculpture, he says that a sculptor contributing to his religion is no ordinary carpenter but an artist with high prestige.