Sands of change

World renowned Indian sand sculptor Sudarsan Pattnaik who created the 40-ft long reclining Buddha statue for the UN Day of Vesak celebrations here, tells Randima Attygalle how he found his medium of artistic expression as a child struggling with poverty.

The youngster who growing up, used the Odisha beach as his canvas as he couldn’t afford art supplies is now the Guinness World Record holder in sand sculpture. This Vesak, Indian sculptor Sudarsan Pattnaik flew to Colombo to create a 40-ft long reclining sand Buddha statue at the Diyawanna Vesak Zone as Sri Lanka hosted the UN Day of Vesak celebrations.

Art in any form is the best means of building cultural bridges, says the unassuming sand sculptor, who has received the Padma Shri, one of the most coveted civilian honours in India. His list of global accolades runs into pages. Holding the Guinness Word Record for the world’s tallest sand castle of 48ft and 8 inches made at the Puri beach in February this year, at 40, he has made India proud with 27 world championships. The winner of the People’s Choice Award in Berlin for five consecutive years, Sudarsan also clinched the Gold Medal for his 10 ft high sand sculpture of Lord Ganesh at the 10th Moscow Sand Art Competition in April this year. His masterpiece of the ‘Black Taj Mahal’ brought him into the global spotlight.

It was a gruelling task for Sudarsan’s mother and grandmother with her Rs. 200 pension to feed four boys. Formal education being a mere fantasy for young Sudarsan, he had to toil for his neighbour, “a thankless job”, as he reminisces, to feed and clothe himself. “Anything is possible in this world if you set your heart to it. Who would have thought that sand as a medium of art would make waves across the world,” reflects the artist credited with having introduced sand art to India without any formal training.

Sea and sand being everyday elements of life for young Sudarsan growing up in Puri, by Odisha beach, he discovered a canvas of unlimited space on it. “My family simply couldn’t afford to buy me paints and oils, so I started making figures and places such as temples in sand,” recollects the artist who was encouraged by tourists on Odisha beach who were enthralled by the young sculptor’s work. In a region famed for dance, music and Hindu temples galore, his imagination was fired.

Sand and water devoid of any ‘skeleton’ supporting the mixture, with an assortment of carving tools are used for creating the sand sculpture and the work doesn’t involve any artificial chemicals, he explains. It is also a temporary form of art, notes Sudarsan. “Unlike other media, sand creations are at the mercy of nature, just like our lives,” remarks the artist with a smile. Although both sea sand and river sand can be used, he prefers sea sand.

A Hindu by birth, Sudarsan is a believer in the Buddhist philosophy. “I’m honoured to have been part of Vesak celebrations in Sri Lanka,” says the artist who says he is blessed to have been able to pay homage to Lord Buddha through his art on various occasions. He has made sand sculptures of the Buddha at international competitions held in Berlin and China, but his Sri Lankan experience – creating a reclining Buddha statue was a first-time effort. He worked for two days with his team of five who flew down with him and utilised six truckloads of fine sand.

It’s his first visit here and he is especially struck by the beaches. “It’s a beautiful island with beautiful sand and enormous talent,” reflects the sculptor who goes on to note that there is so much potential for Lankans to explore sand sculpture, the island being a tourist hot spot. “I have heard so much about Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage and the bonus of having such gifted people could do wonders,” asserts Sudarsan who urges budding sculptors to exploit his medium of art.

A firm believer of youth talent, Sudarsan also advocates art as a medium of connecting the world. “It builds cultural bridges and also strengthens diplomacy,” says the artist who is heartened by the Indian Prime Minister gracing the International Vesak celebrations in Colombo this year. “It makes my visit to Sri Lanka extra special as Prime Minister Modi is very encouraging of my work,” says Sudarsan whose work is closely followed on social media by thousands of his fans.

Setting up ‘The Golden Sand Art Institute’ (renamed Sudarsan Sand Art Institute now)  in Odisha in 1995, Sudarsan, a father of two young children, aspires to share his expertise with young artists. “I once had a Sri Lankan student as well,” smiles Sudarsan who has been invited by the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) to design the content for an on-line certificate course in sand work.

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