Stone Craft

The history of stone is the history of civilization. Stone was amongst the first material to be used by the prehistoric man to create tools to survive in nature. When human beings graduated more and more towards a community-based life, they would have experienced the importance of stone in protecting themselves from wild animals. Primarily, they started using stones to make weapons and tools like arrowheads, javelin points, hammer etc. In the process, their art consciousness developed too. Later, with the developing art consciousness, they began breaking the stone and shaping it creatively to satisfy their creative urge. Thus, a new art of stone craft came into existence. Bihar's story was no different.

Though the tools made from stone have now almost disappeared from our society; stone still continues to be one of the preferred materials for making sculptures.The skills were handed down as family lore from father to son, a practice prevalent in some parts of the country including Bihar even today. The great King Ashoka introduced stone architecture in India and stone craft was not only restricted to ornate carvings on temples or sculptures of deities, but increasingly used in making items like carved panels, tiles, paper weights, pen stands, models of historical buildings, sculptures of animals and humans etc.

The historical evidence of 3rd century BC of stone craft has been discovered from Saran and Chirand of Bihar. In the first phase, the stone-cut door, bowl and pillars have been found which can be marked as signifying utilitarianism in prehistoric culture. Then, stone began to be used in making the idols of god-goddess, found at various places near Patna in Bihar. In short, it can be said that the sculptural development of idols is the development and history of stone crafts. And its history begins from Bihar in Mauryan Empire, which followed suit during the regime of Pal, Shung and Kushan dynasty.

The stone craft reached its pinnacle in the Mauryan era, wherein the stone statue of gods and goddesses began to be formed. The world-famed Ashokan pillar and Yaksh-Yakshi idols are the products of artistic culmination of this era. The opaque glow was the uniqueness of Mauryan artifacts. Pataliputra, now Patna, developed as the main center of stone craft and the idols of Yaksh and Yakshi during this era.

Inscriptions engraved on Emperor Ashoka's pillars and the idols of Lions and Horse introduce us to the artistic splendor of Mauryan sculptors. The best contribution of the stone craft of this era is the world's only stone idol of great beauty 'Yakshini', discovered from Deedarganj of Patna and preserved carefully in the Patna Museum. The statue is famous across the globe for its incredible perfection of beauty of an ideal woman. The historians consider the smile writ large over the face of this statue even more sublime than the world famous Monalisa's. As Monalisa's smile is mysterious and clandestine, the smile of the Yakshi statue possesses balance and poise. The creation of statues in Brahminical style also began in this period. The earliest statue of Lord Vishnu has been discovered from Hasanpura village of Saran district in Bihar.

In the Shung Era, stone crafts matured enough to influence architecture majorly. The stone craft of this era exhibits the Buddhist tradition. The Stupa of Bodhgaya, caves, temple, vihar, etc. are the architectural gift of this era. Several aspects like decoration, intent, idolatry, and elegance became the characteristics of this period. An important example of perfection of this craft can be seen in the pillars of 1896, discovered from Bulandi Baag, which has Naag Pushp engraved on it, reflecting the blend of religious tendencies and folk belief into one. The stone statues of this era are the beautiful examples of the expressions of folk life.

The Shung Era was followed by the Satavahan dynasty in south and the Kushan dynasty in the north. The use of sand and lime in stone craft is the invention of this era. Gandhara sculptural style also evolved during the era. The crux of Gandhar style is Buddha. The statue of Bodhisattva is the proof of the superiority of style of this period, in which a communion

Patharkatti village: Lives on stones

A village called Patharkatti – located on the suburb of Gaya district in Bihar - has acquired utmost cultural significance today and is known for its artistic creativity across the globe. Located between the land of enlightenment of Lord Buddha, Bodhgaya, and His Tapobhumi Rajgir, the village stands as testimony to the magnificent achievements in stone art. As its name 'Patharkatti' signifies -Pathar means stone and Katti means cutting - the term symbolizes the Stone-Cutting, in which the stone-craft has been inherited in every household of the village. The tradition of cutting rock and shaping them into a magnificent work of stone art is passed on from generation to generation in the village. For hundreds of years, the villagers have been in the profession of enlarging the aesthetic sense of world. The stone statue of Buddha made in this village is not only famous in India, but is equally in demand among art lovers across the world. Now the trend is getting broad-based and the artists are using their hands on other aesthetic statues too and earning equal acclaim.

Because of proximity of this village to the source-rock hillock in Gaya district, the stone statues made here are comparatively cheaper. An important characteristic of sculptures of this village is that artisans work on black stone - granite - considered a hard stone. Granite-made statues are sturdy, having no affect of rain, sun and pollution. Artisans now however also work on marble, sandstone and palewa, if demand is raised.

A very interesting story is attributed to the development of cluster of artisans in Pattharkatti village. The credit for facilitating settlement of stone artistes in this village goes to the ruler of Indore, Ahilyabai. Several well-acclaimed temples were built in the country during the reign of Ahilyabai. The famous Vishnupad temple of Gaya was also rebuilt during her era. The stones used in the Vishnupad temple were carried away from Pathakarkati hill, located few kilometers away. Going by the history, for renovating Vishnupad temple, Ahilyabai brought almost one thousand stone artisans, belonging to Gaur caste, from Jaipur. Once the work got over, half the artisans returned to Jaipur, but the remaining ones settled down under the same hillock. Gradually, the artisans' cluster came to be known as Patharkatti.

With the passage of time, these craftsmen got the patronage of regional rulers and landlords. The people of Khukhri village, adjacent to Patharkatti, also began to learn the art of carving stones, and became skilled in the art. And the name and fame of Pattharkatti gradually spread across the world.

Every house of this village is like a natural stone-museum and every villager seem to be a sculptor. The tourism department of Bihar Government has developed the village as a tourist spot. The beautification of the village is being done by the environment and forest department of Bihar Government.The department of industries has now built a beautiful tourist lodge for the discerning tourists and a sprawling marketing venue at the entrance of the village for the local stone crafts men. The department of industries organize a series of marketing workshops for the promotion of the art, artistes, and the village.

got established between external expressions and inner emotions. The representative of this era can be seen in 'Ekanasha' of Balraj in Devgadh of Nawadah district of Bihar, which is now preserved in Patna Museum.
The Gupta period saw the classic phase of Indian sculpture. Through centuries of evolution, the art of sculpture making reached the stage of perfection in this period. They were under no external influence. The sculptors could shape the stone into any object of attraction through their mastered perfection and razor sharp skill. A representative set pattern thus emerged serving as an ideal model for the future. In this period, the combination of the beauty of the body overlapped with the spirituality of its soul. The statue of Chandi, Kartikeya, Vishnu and Agni from Shahabad, preserved presently in Patna Museum, is evidence of the perfection of this period.

During the rule of Palas, art and architecture witnessed a phenomenal progress in Bihar. The exclusive development of art and architecture of Pala dynasty culminated in the emergence of 'Pala School of Sculptural Art'. One of the finest instances of stone craft of this era is the idol of Lord Vishnu, discovered from Silour village of Siwan district. Their style and pattern were followed throughout southeastern Asia, China, Japan, and Tibet.

The idols of Ganga and Tara, one of the finest examples of perfection in stone craft, have been housed in Patna museum. An Idol of Lord Vishnu of 11th century, discovered from Ekma, is another fine representative sculpture piece of this period. The rhythmic pattern developed in statue art is the hallmark of this period.

When compared to its days of glory, stone craft has become a small scale business now in Bihar. However, the stone statue of Buddha, made in Gaya region of Bihar, has become a prime attraction in the world market today. Earlier, stone craft tradition was primarily focused on religious themes. But now the attention has shifted and the tradition has taken a wider artistic turn, thus creating the stone forms of elephant, tiger and deer etc. A stone artwork of an elephant with little elephant in its hedgehog, created by Firangi Laal of Kaimur district of Bihar, has become the talk in the world niche market today.

The most noted stoneware centre of Bihar today is Patharkatti village in Gaya district and it has acquired a world wide eminence for its artistic culmination in stone craft. This area abounds in the less expensive blue black pot stone from which images and household articles like the pestle, and the mortar kharal (medicine grinder) are made. Buddhist icons however still remain its specialty. Chandil and Karaikalla in Singhbum district and Dumka in Santhal Parganas, now in Jharkhand, work in beautifully grained greenish black soapstone.

Though the tools made from stone have now almost disappeared from our society; stone still continues to be one of the preferred materials for making sculptures.The skills were handed down as family lore from father to son, a practice prevalent in some parts of the country including Bihar even today. The historical evidence of 3rd century BC of stone craft has been discovered from Saran and Chirand of Bihar.