(Written by Sonal Gupta)
The quiet art gallery of the India International Centre, Delhi, perhaps replicates the hush of reverence one usually finds in the inner sanctum of a temple. Yet, with Siddhartha Das Studio’s exhibition, “Interpreting Temples”, on the Jagannath and Lingaraj temples of Odisha, the hall was bustling with Hindu myths and legends. Over a hundred craftspeople have come together to form replicas of the temple and retell stories behind the sculptures through pattachitra paintings and hand-drawings. It took 14 months, eight researchers, two servitors, many filmmakers and photographers for the project to become a reality.
The government of Odisha had commissioned this project to establish museums and interpretation centres on the temples there. The large 18 ft replicas made from the same stone as the temples would be housed in the museums that will come up in Bhubaneswar, in March, and a year later, in Puri. “In these divisive times, I wondered how I’d tell the story of a place of worship, of an elevation of spirit, of how faith makes people do such amazing things. It can be beautiful and even scary,” says Das. The
Delhi-based multidisciplinary designer has been involved in over 200 cultural and heritage projects at various places such as the Museum Rietberg, Zurich and Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
The teak wood models of the temple on display reflect the iconography of the Kalinga architecture and the narratives behind it. For instance, the gajakranta where the lion stands atop the elephant marks its superiority as king. Visual depictions of the stories from Shiva, Skanda and Brahma puranas on tussar retain the traditional style of Odisha.
The journey wasn’t easy, remarks Das, recounting the numerous trips to the site and copious measuring of buildings. At the exhibition, short films document the people behind the project. “We made sure that all the people were local, to retain the original flavour. We had stalwarts like Prabhakar Maharana, who has earned a Padma Shri for sculpture, on board. The entire garb is contemporary but the work is of legacy-bearers of tradition,” says Das.
The exhibition also explores the gamut of living traditions and rituals to understand “why people congregate the way they do”. A film on the annual rath yatra captures the eight lakh people thronging the three km of the danda path outside the Jagannath temple. “If you’re one of the people there, it’s incredible but horrifyingly frightening. There are people wanting to just touch the rath. They don’t care if they faint or get trampled upon. You’d wish you could have that kind of faith, in anything,” says Das.
The research behind the project included historians, archaeologists and even the King of Puri, Gajapati Maharaja Dibyasingha Deb, who’s the protector of the temple. The team referenced books and material at the British Library, National Museum, and state and national archives. “We needed original pictures from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), since some parts of the sculptures are now broken,” says Das.
The exhibition is at the India International Centre, Delhi, till December 6