Eminent sculptor Raghunath Mohapatra planned to create a replica of the Sun temple at Konark
He dreamt everything big and beautiful. Like the gigantic temples and sculptures that he created during his lifetime. He desired to live for 120 years, create “another Konark” in his home state Odisha and to be honoured with the Bharat Ratna for it.
Eminent sculptor Raghunath Mohapatra
Famed sculptor Raghunath Mohapatra, sitting member of the Rajya Sabha; Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan awardee and a recipient of the Shilpi Guru award from the central government, and the Dharmapada Puraskar, Odisha’s highest honour for art, passed away in Bhubaneswar on May 9 at the age of 78.
Mohapatra was not a mere dreamer, he was a determined doer, whose incredible achievements speak volumes of his creativity, vision and confidence.
Winning the National Award for sculpture at the young age of 21 helped him give shape to his imagination early on. One of his initial works, the six-feet-tall greystone statue of the Sun god, displayed at the Central Hall of Parliament, remains a bright spot in his creative journey.
Another remarkable creation is the large lotus sculpted on a single black granite stone at former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s samadhi, Vir Bhumi, in Delhi. “Eminent sculptors from around the country were invited to present their proposal-models to the government. Sonia Gandhi had come personally to view the models. She asked me why I had thought of the lotus. I explained my concept of Rajivlochan (lotus-eyed), which she appreciated,” Mohapatra said in interviews.
The majestic Mukteswar Gate in red sandstone at the popular Surajkund crafts-fair complex, near the national capital, and the three 20-feet-tall statues of Buddha in white sandstone at the monastery in Ladakh are the other signature pieces by the sculptor, whose Buddha statues have also found pride of place in Japan and France.
Odisha boasts numerous creations of the legend, like the white sandstone Buddha statues atop the historic Dhauli hills near Bhubaneswar and the replica of the Konark horse at the Master Canteen square in the heart of the city, the most familiar landmark of Bhubaneswar.
A replica of Puri Jagannath temple, Balasore
Not just sculptures, Raghunath Mohapatra conceptualised and designed more than a dozen temples in India and abroad. The Tara Tarini temple in Ganjam and the Jagannath temples at Remuna and Angul — all in Odisha — apart from temples in Bengaluru and Visakhapatnam .
A primary school dropout, who sold stone idols to pilgrims in the streets of Puri, Raghunath was born into a traditional family of sculptors of the Pathuria Sahi (colony of stone-carvers). He grew up under the watchful eyes of his maternal grandfather and eminent sculptor, Aparti Mohapatra, whose family had a long association with the Jagannath temple of Puri.
“My ancestors were the sculptors of the Jagannath temple in Puri and the Sun temple at Konark. Stone sculpting is a family legacy and I was naturally drawn towards it. My grandfather was my guru. I was quite scared of my teacher in school, who used to punish me since I was poor in studies. I was once beaten up so mercilessly by the teacher that I had blood stains. As soon as my grandfather discovered this, he decided that I should stop going to school and pursue the family craft,” Mohapatra once told me.
Though he stopped going to school at age eight, his sculpting skills came to the fore. He was 16 when his talent was spotted by some officials of the State Handicrafts Department and he was offered the job of a trainer at the Handicraft Training and Designing Centre, Bhubaneswar. He rose to finally become the Centre superintendent.
After spending more than 50 years of his career as a guru for more than 2,000 sculptors in Odisha, Mohapatra announced his long-cherished dream of building the Aditya Narayan (another name for the Sun god) temple near Puri eight years ago. It was billed to be another Konark. He bought 100 acres of land and started working on his mega project.
“While 1,200 sculptors took 12 years to complete the Konark temple, my project will be complete in eight years and involve 600 sculptors and an investment of about ₹300 crore. The sprawling campus will have a research and development centre on Odisha’s temple architecture and a state-of-the-art training centre for sculptors,” he had said. The pandemic has claimed his life, but his art will live on through his many creations.
The Bhubaneswar-based journalist
writes on culture.
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