Bronze art is one of those elements that can be seen all over India. If we look at the art of sculpting in India, what stands out are the Chola bronze sculptures found in South India.
These are known, among other things, for their beauty and intricate designs. Bronze sculptures are also found all over the country, although not much is known about the bronze sculptures of Goa. But, that is all set to change now.
The book, Divinities in Metal – A study on Goan Bronzes, by researcher Rohit Phalgaonkar, throws light on such sculptures found in Goa, their history, and how and why this craft began to decline.
The book, published by the Department of Art and Culture, will be released on Dec 9, 2023 at 5.30 pm at the hands of Govind Gaude, Minister for Art and Culture, at the Multipurpose Hall, Sanskruti Bhavan, Panjim.
Head and Associate Prof of Sanskrit and Indological Studies, Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune, Manjiri Bhalerao, will be the guest of honour.
INSPIRATION & RESEARCH
The sculptures that the book speaks about are worshipped in temples of Goa, mainly as festival icons popularly called utsav murtis.
The author has attempted to describe around 34 such sculptures having great archaeological significance in reconstructing Goa’s art history.
Rohit, who teaches history at Sant Sohirobanath Ambiye Government College of Arts & Commerce, Pernem, states that his interest was triggered when he read about these bronze sculptures in the book, Ancient Shrines of Goa, by V T Gune, former Director of the Directorate of Archives and Archaeology, Goa.
Rohit then spent around six years researching and documenting these sculptures. An exquisite sculpture, according to him, is that of the idol of Devki with baby Krishna.
Devki is the biological mother of Krishna, and is presently worshipped along with baby Krishna in a temple at Mashel. This sculpture is not the main deity, but is used on special occasions.
ABOUT THE SCULPTURES
“Many of these sculptures are very detailed, and you can see their hairstyles, draping styles, jewellery, etc. Through this, we can get an idea of what society was like, their social life, religious conditions, etc of that era,” says Rohit.
Since there are no inscriptions on these sculptures, stylistic analysis was done and it is believed that they date from around the Vijayanagara period of the 14th and 15th century.
He adds that the oldest sculpture is Mahalaxmi of Colva, now in Bandora temple, as the utsav murti. However, in the temples of Kamakshi at Shiroda, Santeri of Ramnathi are worshipped as the main deities.
Rohit believes that these idols must have been moved from their original site during the Portuguese rule as these were easy to transport and were mobile, compared to idols made of stone.
Rohit further informs that along with such deities, there are bronze sculptures of local deities like that of Betal at Kavlem, Mulgaon, which was brought from Betalbatim during the Portuguese rule.
The book also details the Kasal community, who were the craftsmen of these sculptures. He says that this tradition of making bronze idols no longer exists, which he believes could be because they didn’t receive patronage during the Portuguese rule, eventually leading it to die a slow death.
All these craftsmen, carpenters, musicians, who were associated with temples were termed as sevakaris as they did this job with a lot of devotion.
Rohit further mentions that these craftsmen followed the lost wax casting method, which is considered an old method of casting. He opines that it could have been a dominant occupation, as in some folk songs, there is mention of the entire process of making these bronze sculptures.
Rohit, as part of his research, has referred to texts like Manasollasa and also Portuguese records. Here, he realised that in Goa, sculptures were made from metal and also from mud and dough.
He gives the example of Mange Thapni — which is worshipping crocodiles by making crocodile idols from mud. He also mentions rare rituals like Baaras in Navelim village in Bicholim. Here villagers make turtles, fish from dough, just before the sowing season.
The book also mentions cloth banners (which are still a part of temple worship in South Goa) like Tako — which is a banner with words and images — it is part of the Betal temple at Poinguinim, Canacona.
“In this chapter, I look at different types of icon worship, like 3D, and also single dimension such as painting, cloth banner, etc and how they have evolved over time with intricate bronze sculptures,” he adds.