Gallery by the Sea
The temple town's beach has fallen to the magic of a new form--sand art.
By Ruben Banerjee
Every evening as the sun sets over the boundless, choppy waters, enchanting images come alive on the unending stretch of sand. A mermaid reclining against an exquisitely carved conch shell. A serene, snake-entwined Shiva or a fiery, tongue-lashing Kali, the magnificent Konark temple or the Taj Mahal -- anything is stimulus for sculpture for the creative throng on the golden beach at Puri in Orissa. The seaside town, whose pristine beaches attract lakhs of visitors every year and whose famed Jagannath temple draws in the more devout, now has a new attraction, or rather addiction -- sand art.
Mostly college students and a few office-goers with some time to spare the sand artists converge on the beach daily and allow their imaginations -- and fingers -- to run riot. Ideas are never in short supply as images take shape and accolades come aplenty from enthralled onlookers. "I have never seen such beautiful images ever in my life," says Sudipto Panda, a tourist from Calcutta. Though the images leave lasting impressions on the visitors, they don't on the beach as the roaring waves lunge forward and wash away the imprints. But this doesn't bother the sand artists as they work afresh on ideas. "Our creative urges get satiated the moment we sculpt our images," says Sudarshan Patnaik, a 22-year-old college dropout, who was the first to introduce the art form on the beach.
It happened a few years ago at the beach when Patnaik, a student at a local arts school, was doodling on the sand. To his astonishment, he saw that he had etched the face of Lord Shiva. "It was the beginning of a habit," says Patnaik. The beach beckoned him daily and his art drew a fan following and enthusiastic students. At the insistence of a friend, Patnaik decided to formalise his teaching and set up the Golden Sand Art Institute three years ago with just two students. Today, his institute has over 30 students. Says Pushpita Das, one of the students and a regular on the beach: "Once you are bitten by this art form, it's difficult to get out."
The growing number of people falling to its spell would agree. At Hadisahi -- a middle-class neighbourhood in the town -- a few boys and girls have formed an informal band to hone their skills in one corner of the beach. In yet another corner, Manmohan Mohapatra, a self-taught master like Patnaik, teaches the art to a group of eager learners. "With more and more people joining in, the beach is being enlivened," says Braja Kishore Tirpathy, MP from Puri. It's a matter of pride too for the locals who are quick to point out that though more famed beaches exist in Goa and Kerala, it's only in Puri that sand art has come to stay. Something the local hoteliers have been quick to catch on, realising that this art form can be used to hardsell the town to more tourists. Patnaik has already been allowed free use of one stretch of the beach by a luxury hotel.
Fortunately, even the local administration is showing signs of extending patronage to sand-art practitioners. A departure indeed from the earlier days when government officials smirked and shrugged off pleas by the likes of Patnaik for administrative help. In fact, only two years ago, Patnaik's attempts to get a sponsorship from the Government to participate in an international sand art competition in Canada had fallen through. This year, however, he was flown in time to London at government expense to participate in the World Travel Fair and display his art. The Tourism Department has also come forward to co-host an annual exhibition on sand art on the Puri beach along with Patnaik's institute.
As patronage begins to trickle in, the sand artists have drawn up more ambitious plans. Patnaik hopes that someday he'll have a beach of his own for a permanent display of his sand art. "Like Nek Chand's rock garden in Chandigarh, sand art too should have its exclusive place in Puri," he reasons. As he prepares to petition the government for a lease, sand artists are of the overwhelming view that an exhibition ground for their art form would allow them to leave permanent signatures on sand. And that would be a bigger draw.
© Living Media India Ltd