MY SEARCH FOR THE ARTISTS WHO CREATED IMAGERIES OF SHYAM-RAI TEMPLE -III
CHANDU AND LAXMAN
Chandu was the most likable person of the team Mallaraj assembled. A balanced man and a great devotee of Krsna , he evolved as a writer stories in terra cotta .
Like in any Sutradhar family of 16th and 17th centuries, he started his apprenticeship early. 2nd among 5 children of his father's 2nd wife ( 1st wife was barren) , he was closest to his father in work-related matters.His bond with his father was the same Aalam's . Chandu had to compete with 4 others for his father's attention, but, he stood out because of his skill and nature . His youngest brother was very jealous,but Chandu tolerated his tantrums and mischief.
His work was getting noticed within 2 years .When he was working as an assistant to his father and uncles on a simple 'ek-chala' temple for Swarup Bhatta's family , he was allowed to make two small panels on Krsna's childhood . Those were adjudged better than those made by his 26 years old uncle.
This uncle and Chandu's younger brother would cause problems to Chandu in later years when he did his Ramayana panels for Vrindabanchandra temple.
Swarup Bhatta was so impressed by this budding artist that he called Chandu's father and advised him to send this son to the village school during 3 months recess from masonry work in the monsoon period. Two successive years in the village school gave Chandu rudimentary ideas about alphabets which was not common among Sutradhar families.But, his real 'guru' was a 18 years old Padabali-singer madly in love with one of his cousins . Chandu would play the role of intermediary and in return received lessons in alphabets. Chandu could read the erotic portions of 'Srikrsnakirtan' when he was 15 years old , thus honing his imageries which would later set him apart from from other artists of his community.
Since his adolescence,handsome and lithe Chandu would have many flings and love-affairs in his life.He was endowed with a quiet appeal and equipped to win a woman's heart with his command on erotic verses of 'Padabali' and his ability to create plaques with the face of his beloved .Faces of two of his beloved were immortalised on the walls of Bishnupur temples......none of them is Phulni ,his 1st wife . More about his love life later.
Chandu's imageries went for a lot of changes as Charandas would guide him through the maze of religious scripture . Aalam gave him ideas on observations of human anatomy. He grew more confident and learnt to take artistic deviations. These trait would enable him create the now-famous 'Uragendra^bhoga^baahu^dando' (.....His hands compared with the of body of Snake King.....) Krsna panel where He placees his hands over the breasts of two Gopis simultaneously with his lips in kissing distance from one. This technique of using longer-than-normal arms have been repeated in any temples including in panels showing Sage Rishyashringa .
Chandu would evolve to be a sought-after terra cotta artist after Shyam-Rai temple was built.Life-story of Chandrabanshi alias Chandu would have been written in golden letters if Indian history would not have been so forgetful about her sculptors and painters.
Laxman was a difficult person. He had every reason to be one.
He was not from any lineage of artists.Born out of wedlock .....his father a successful pot-bellied Palmist of the then-famous military town Munger and mother a doe-eyed beautiful 'Temple Dancer' of a Krsna-Radha temple near-by. He was brought up among neglect in the servant's quarters of his father's family till he started working in a mason's group and moved away to Murshidabad area, much to the relief of his biological father. He worked for masons, in fields , among iron-smiths, a doctor whose herbal medicines were good for heart and libido and finally for a group of potters, all along learning how to survive in a society which showed no affection to a bastard.
Six elderly men, five women and three young couples from his locality left for Puri in 1630 AD on a November morning. He managed to join this entourage as an odd-job person.This trip to Puri and Bhubaneswar would bring out the artist in Laxman. On his return among the potters, Laxman made four erotic plaques, in line with what he saw during the trip to Puri, Bhubaneswar and Konark , which found a taker among the virile male gentry he came to know during his tenure with the doctor practising herbal medicines. This man liked the plaques in spite of Laxman's inadequate firing technique.
As this side-business grew, Laxman realised that he would need a lot more knowledge of depiction of human figures and moods to look beyond selling erotic panels and plaques. He wanted to make a plaque each of Goddess Chandi and Lord Rama, but he found his own figure-work had a lot of limitations. In quest of a teacher , he moved to Burdwan district and later to Mayurbhanj district where 'dokra' artists used to create wonders for kings and rich persons. It was very difficult to get an entry into this group. He used the little savings he had and his young body to gain a toe-hold among this community .By 1936 AD, his eyes and fingers improved . He also got more ideas about Hindu gods and goddesses of both Vaisnava and Shakta cult worshipers.
He was settled for a while in Panchakot of Purulia district, working among specialist masons engaged in Temple building .During this period, he had decorated at least four dance-halls of local landlords with terra cotta plaques . Not all his panels were erotic in nature. He did good work on depiction of dancers and musicians.
During this phase of life , young Laxman learnt how to fend for himself as he drifted from place to place. He had several relationships with women of various ages and at least two relationships with men before he joined the team for Shyam-Rai temple.While he did as an Artist, as a person,he was totally under the control of his demons .He had no scruples about lying, stealing and manipulating women for money .His early work brought out those demons on the terra cotta panels he created for Shyam-Rai Temple.
When he got a chance to join the team at Shyam-Rai temple, he left Panchakot with confidence. But, he would find it difficult to adjust to the religion-charged atmosphere of Bishnupur. In the beginning, Swarup Bhatta and Manomay Acharya would also find it difficult to tackle Laxman and extract the kind of imageries Shyam-Rai needed from him.
Time proved that their patience paid.