Artist uses ancient rock art technique and converts Maoist area into tourist hotspot
Once known As a refuge for the Maoists, the Ajodhya Hills in the Purulia district of West Bengal have now become a tourist hotspot, all thanks to the efforts of one man – Chitta Dey.
Using the ancient art of “in situ” rock carving, he transformed the face of the picturesque hills between Balamrampur and the village of Srirampur, and thus generated employment for nearly 25 tribal youth.
He engraved birds and animals on the gigantic rocks, as high as 800 feet. Impressed by the talented 63-year-old artist, the government of West Bengal provided financial support for his process and the preservation of the rocks.
“The theft and illegal smuggling of ancient rocks with carvings is a common practice in India. By illustrating the art on Ajodhya Hills, we made sure that the precious hill will not be damaged by anyone. Stone carvings are now part of our heritage, as are the caves of Elephanta or Ajanta Ellora, ”says Chitta. The best India.
The skilful artist, who was once referred to as “mad” for calling the rock his “canvas”, has also been turned away by the government and locals who failed to understand why an artist like him was interested in ” waste ”his skills here.
Born and raised in a lower middle class Kolkata family with eight siblings, Chitta was never encouraged to pursue his artistic abilities despite being locally very popular for his work. His father passed away in 1975 and this further distanced him from him.
He began working in theaters to design sets and support his family while saving enough to pursue a degree at Government Art College in Kolkata.
Here he would experience the technique of in situ sculpture and learn about India’s prosperous heritage in stone carving.
“Stone carvings are usually associated with a process in which stones are quarried and carved elsewhere. This practice is common and simple. But if you travel the world, you will discover remarkable sites where the sculpture was made on the spot. These include the Giant Buddha of China, the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota, Naqsh-e-Rustam in Persepolis and Santoni in Sicily. Closer to us we have the temples of Ajanta and Badami Cave. To my knowledge, the last stone carving in India was made in the 11th century. I wanted to revive this art form and pass the skills on to the younger generation, ”says Chitta.
Before embarking on his mission, Chitta worked on the local art scene and established himself.
The trigger point came in 1991 at an art show where he exhibited a metal writing of a bird with wings as large as 22 feet tall. He was forced to take the piece apart and reassemble it because it couldn’t get through the doors of the Academy of Fine Arts.
When asked to reduce the size of his pieces in upcoming exhibitions, he realized he needed a larger canvas.
In the same year, he began to search for a suitable hill and visited several sites, from the western ghats of Maharashtra to the terrain of metamorphosed rocky hills in Tamil Nadu.
He observed the shape and size of the hills and imagined the designs of birds and animals on them. He also studied and tested rocks. The hills of Adoydhya were the closest in terms of distance and also the most suitable for his next masterpiece.
It took him almost 2-3 years and countless visits to various departments of government offices to get the permits. In 1996, the state government headed by then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee awarded him an 800 foot hill in the Mathar Pahar area and awarded him Rs 2 lakhs for his work.
Conservation of stone through art
Chitta has adopted a two-pronged strategy to educate locals and increase tourism to the area.
“Tribes have lived here for centuries and some families still depend on the forest. Not to involve them would be unfair. I taught sculpture and stone carving to 30 local youth over a three-year period. They were trained in hammers and scissors, rock climbing and abseiling. I spent hours teaching designs, patterns, floral designs on paper, ”explains Chitta.
The villagers called him “crazy about something with the hill”. “Yet he ate with us and slept with us on the floor,” Paresh Mahato, one of the trainees, Recount Mint.
Chitta was impressed by the patience and dedication of the students and this motivated him to continue this long and arduous journey of several years.
To attract tourists, Chitta focused on a nature-themed series called Pakhi Pahar (Bird Hill) in which he drew more than a hundred species of birds.
In 1999, he was ready with the drawings, but the work did not start until 2008, when he received more funds from the Planning Commission of the central government.
While the smallest wingspan is around 55 feet, the largest spans 120 feet of rock.
Chitta says an action figure can take anywhere from six months to a year, depending on its size and weather conditions. Extreme heat and monsoons are a no-no.
“Stone carving requires immense amounts of endurance, strength and patience. Some days we have to be okay if we only finish a tiny part of the eye. It may seem like we’re just sitting down and getting the job done, but come to think of it, we’re hanging several feet high in our harnesses in one position. We rarely take breaks. But we stop the work in bad weather, otherwise it can become quite dangerous, ”he adds.
The team spends at least a month visualizing the bird on the hill from all sides before putting it on paper.
“We use three colors of enamel paint: white, blue and yellow, throughout the process. Yellow is to draw a pattern inside, which is the blue line from which we start to cut. White forms the basis of the structure. In the end, we wipe off all the colors except the white which takes the shape of the figure, ”explains Chitta.
Chitta and her team are currently working on their second project to create endangered animals like the pangolin, turtles, and spotted deer, as well as frogs, peacocks, and squirrels. They also use boulders and small boulders to showcase local wildlife.
Seeing the breathtaking rock art, the local government took several initiatives to beautify the hills, such as planting trees, creating roads for good connectivity and patrolling the area.
Tourism has doubled, says Chitta and says: “With more and more tourists flocking here, the presence of non-state actors has diminished. In addition, locals can earn more due to the tourism boom. Glad to see Pakhar Pahar listed as a must see tourist spot on private and government tourist sites, ”he says.
In their next project, the team hopes to recreate an underwater ecosystem illustrating the life of corals and fish. However, he is worried about the funds. While the government has always supported his work, Chitta says they need more for execution.
“Funding can ensure that my team will pass their skills on to the next generation, who will continue this art for years to come. It is an important art form and we must do everything to preserve it, ”he concludes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)