Express press service
BHUBANESWAR: During the last seven decades of his journey with stones, legendary Odisha sculptor and member of Rajya Sabha Raghunath Mohapatra, with his distinct carving style, has adorned the state’s cultural landscape with masterpieces work difficult to reproduce today.
Pioneer figure in the world of sculpture and winner of the Padma Vibhusan Prize – second highest civilian honor after Bharat Ratna – the 78-year-old icon was born into a Biswakarma family in the Pathuria Sahi of Puri. As a young boy who feared going to school, he dropped out of Class III to carry on his family’s legacy. His initial training in sculpture began at the age of eight under his grandfather Aparti Mohapatra, a sculptor who worked with the Puri royal family for the upkeep of the Shri Jagannath Temple.
Although he had no formal training in sculpture, Mohapatra was an encyclopedia on Shilpa Sastra and began carving idols based on Hindu religious iconography from an early age. His passion for stone carving was strong and remained unwavering until his last breath. What made his craft unique was that Mohapatra never took the help of machines and the only tools he used were a chisel and hammer.
In the 1960s, when he was only 20 years old, Mohapatra carved stone idols of deities and devadasis and sold them on the streets of Pathuria Sahi. The beauty of his job was brought to the attention of the managers of the Bhubaneswar Training and Handicraft Design Center and they offered him a job as a trainer at the institute. Here he became a senior instructor, master craftsman and superintendent of the institute.
A decade later, he won the prestigious Padma Shri in 1974 for the creation of a six-foot-tall gray stone statue of the Sun God which is on display in the Central Hall of Parliament. Twenty-seven years later, in 2001, Mohapatra received the Padma Bhushan. And in 2013, he received the Padma Vibhushan for his contribution to enriching the field of stone carving.
In the meantime, the legendary craftsman has created several masterpieces like white sandstone Buddha statues at Dhauligiri Shanti Stupa, Konark horses at Barabati and Master Canteen stadium, the Mukteswar gate in Surajkund and a gigantic lotus at the samadhi from Rajiv Gandhi to Vir Bhumi, both in New Delhi for that matter, statues of Buddha in the monasteries of Ladakh, Japan and Paris. Within Odisha, one of his most ambitious works was the Tara Tarini Temple in Ganjam District which he built according to the ancient style of Kalinga Temple architecture. Mohapatra also built Jagannath temples in Nigeria, Bangalore, Balasore, a Laxmi temple in Visakhapatnam and a Sai temple in Jharsuguda.
Even after being nominated for the Rajya Sabha in 2018, Mohapatra continued to mentor budding sculptors who can now take care of the Odisha temple legacy. During his lifetime, he trained thousands of young people from Odisha and other states in traditional carving and temple design in his workshop in Sisupalgarh Square on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.
He dreamed of building another temple of the sun. In 2018, he laid the foundation stone for his dream project – an “ Adityanarayan ” temple – near Satyabadi along the Puri-Bhubaneswar road. The temple, he had said, would look like the Sun Temple in Konark. However, he was never able to start working to make the dream come true. As news of his death from Covid-19 spread on Sunday evening, leaders across the country, including the Prime Minister and Chief Minister, artists and art lovers from across the country paid tribute to the sculptor.