In India, deity decorating a hindu temple artist vocation

In India, deity decorating a hindu temple artist vocation

In India, deity decorating a hindu temple artist vocation

CHENNAI, India (AP) — The former IT professional — now a very specialized type of artist — has locked his gaze on the divinity before him.

On a recent afternoon, S. Goutham, 33, was perched on a ladder at the altar of Goddess Durga at the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Chennai, India. Goutham – her hand moving steadily – pleated a green silk sari to adorn the deity.

“You can’t be tense when you’re doing this job,” he says. “You can’t do this if you’re not patient. You must become one with her.

A computer science graduate, Goutham quit his job nearly a decade ago to pursue his calling. He has since followed in the footsteps of his ancestors as a fifth-generation temple deity decorator.

In Hindu temples, the idols are mainly made of materials such as black granite, white marble or five-metal alloys which have sacred significance. These deities are worshiped as physical and tangible representations of God (Brahman) who is believed to be infinite, omnipresent and incomprehensible. Worship in a Hindu temple involves bathing these deities in milk, decorating them with colorful clothes, flowers, perfumes such as sandalwood, jewelry and even weapons such as swords, clubs and tridents. Oil lamps are lit at the altar, and sacred songs and food are offered to the gods.

Decorating deities is an age-old practice that is described in the Hindu epic Ramayana, and Goutham learned this art from a very young age. He designed his first official decoration at the age of 13 – at the very altar where he stood 20 years later, on a November day.

He has made thousands of decorations, ranging from relatively simple ones that take an hour or two to complete, to more complex ones that take several days.

Goutham said he became interested in decorating deities as a child because of his father.

“When you’re little, your dad is your hero,” he said. “I wanted to be like him.”

The first lesson Goutham received from his father was about the weapons each god would hold. He heard stories about the power of each weapon and how the gods would wield them.

“The personality of the deity and the story of the god or goddess could change depending on their weapons, the clothes they wear, the expression on their face, or the position in which they sit or stand” , did he declare.

When he sets out to decorate a deity, Goutham says he has an idea of ​​what to do, but doesn’t start with a sketch. He proceeds step by step placing the hands, feet and weapons of the deity. Then he moves on to clothing and jewelry. Gradually, the form of the god manifests.

There are rules about the types of materials that can be used on deities.

“The human body is made up of earth, water, fire, air and space, and everything you see occurring naturally on Earth is made up of these elements,” Goutham said. “To show this, we decorate deities using things that occur in nature and are a representation of those elements, like copper, cloth, coconut fibers, etc.”

He says that the decoration of a deity combines elements of art, dance and yoga, in terms of hand gestures and postures that the deities adopt. Artificial materials such as plastic are prohibited. Goutham says he uses small pins to hold the fabric together, but makes sure the pins don’t directly touch the idol.

He obtains the arms and legs of the deities, mainly in copper or brass, as well as weapons and jewelry, from craftsmen.

He has also created an app and a website for those who wish to learn more about this art and dream of creating an institution to train artists capable of maintaining the sacred tradition. While most deity decorators are male, he sees no reason why women can’t learn and practice it.

“Everyone is equal before God,” he said.

Storytelling is an important part of what he does. One of his favorite installations depicts the friendship between Lord Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, and Kuchela.

“It shows Krishna washing the feet of Kuchela, a poor man, conveying the message that humility is a virtue – whether you are a human being or a god,” Goutham said.

The term “idol worship” can have negative connotations in some religions. But for Hindus, deities – which are kept in temples, homes, shops and offices – serve as focal points “as we channel our devotions, actions and serve as reminders of all the positive values ​​that are associated with these deities”. said Suhag Shukla, executive director of the American Hindu Foundation.

Shukla says this form of worship is a way for her to connect with her ancestors.

“As a second-generation Hindu American, I didn’t grow up with all these things around me that I could absorb by osmosis,” she said. “But just knowing that I’m part of a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation is personally powerful to me.”

In American Hindu temples, community members come together to help create the deities’ costumes, and it’s an act of devotion, Shukla said.

“No one is forced to sit there and embroider a skirt or a saree for a goddess, but they do it as a show of love,” she said. “It’s humbling and empowering.”

Goutham says he doesn’t see his job as a calling.

“You can call it service because it brings pure joy to so many people and plays a role in our spiritual awakening,” he said. “But in my opinion, it is much more than that. He has the power to transform people.

Goutham decorated deities in temples abroad as he did in tiny Indian villages and little-known temples. He remembers once stopping at a village tea shop and hearing the locals praising his decoration of their temple deity.

“It really warmed my heart,” he said.

As Goutham placed a crown and garland on the Chennai temple deity, neighbor Sucharithra Surendrababu watched in awe as she took images of the decorated goddess on her mobile phone.

“I love seeing Mother Durga whether decorated or not,” she said. “But, when I see her all decked out and beautiful, it makes me so happy. It’s uplifting and uplifting.

Some decorations bring tears to the eyes of the artist.

“It’s not just something that’s pretty to look at,” Goutham said. “It’s a matter of love and faith. When you touch the deities, dress them and decorate them, you regard them as your friends or relatives. You need skills and vision to do this. But above all, it takes courage.


Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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