Newly-nominated Rajya Sabha MP Raghunath Mohapatra is an artist ‘rooted in indigenous forms of sculpture’

In November 2017, it was reported that noted Oriya sculptor Raghunath Mohapatra would build a “second Sun Temple” on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar. Mohapatra — who was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2013 — had made repeated requests to government agencies to green light the project. With no positive signals from that quarter, then 74-year-old Mohapatra decided to go ahead with the project — estimated to cost around Rs 600 crore — himself.

“I have the support of the people of Odisha and culture lovers of other states. I don’t think funds will be a constraint,” Mohapatra had said to the press at the time, unveiling his plans for the grand Aditya Narayan Mandir, which would spread across 100 acres alongside the Puri-Bhubaneswar national highway.

Newly-nominated Rajya Sabha MP Raghunath Mohapatra is an artist ‘rooted in indigenous forms of sculpture’

Raghunath Mohapatra with former President Pranab Mukherjee, Image courtesy Facebook

Mohapatra’s aim was to give visitors a glimpse of the true glory of the original Sun Temple, built in the 13th century at Konark, and of which only some portions remain.

Interestingly, it is said that Mohapatra’s ancestors were involved in the building of the Sun Temple at Konar and the Jagannath Temple at Puri. Hailing from a family of illustrious sculptors, it is perhaps little surprise that Mohapatra excelled in the form at an early age. He did not complete his formal education (having studied till about Class Three) but began sculpting at an early age, winning a National Award by the time he was 22.

More honours were to follow — the Padma Shri in 1976, followed by the Padma Bhushan in 2001, and then the Padma Vibhushan 12 years later. And on 14 July 2018, Mohapatra was among four personalities nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the President of India.

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“My father started his journey as an artist at the age of eight, and there has been no looking back ever since,” Raghunath’s son Jashobant Mohapatra said. “More than 2,000 students have learnt at his training centre in Odisha, and about 25 to 30 percent of them have gone onto win state or national awards.” Jashobant, a sculptor himself, has been working closely with his father since 1986.

Raghunath Mohapatra became an authority on stone carving not just because of the magic he wielded with his hands and a chisel, but also because of his deep knowledge of the traditional style of sculpting in temple architecture. His best works include a six-feet-high statue of the Sun God carved in grey sandstone at the Central Hall of Parliament, New Delhi; a wooden image of Buddha at the Buddha Temple, Paris; two white Dholpuri stone lamps in the Prime Minister's office, New Delhi; the decorative central circle and pillars in Park Street, Kolkata; and a 15-feet-high Mukteswar gate in red sandstone at Surajkund, Haryana.

Mohapatra has also worked towards the preservation of traditional sculpture and ancient monuments, such as the Sri Jagannath Temple in his birthplace, Puri.

However, this is not to say that Mohapatra’s work embraces the traditional alone. “Raghunathji balances tradition with his own ideas, which he then directs us to execute,” says Kalpataru Maharana, Mohapatra’s first student. Maharana was born in the same house as Raghunath, has worked under his tutelage since childhood, and is also a Shilpiguru Award-winner, like his teacher.

“He (Mohapatra) has so much art in his mind that it is difficult to express [sic]. He is constantly thinking about what to do next,” Maharana added.

Along with his sculpting, Mohapatra has held a slew of positions. Since 1963, he has served as a senior instructor and superintendent of the Handicraft Training and Designing Center of the Government of Odisha in Bhubaneswar. In 2000, he was nominated as a member of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Currently, he is a member of the Lalit Kala Academy and President of the Bhubaneswar branch of the All India Viswakarma Mahasangha.

Among those who have closely interacted with Mohapatra and followed his work over the decades is Adwaita Gadanayak, the director-general of the National Gallery of Modern Art, and also a stone sculptor from Odisha. Describing Mohapatra as an artist “rooted in indigenous forms of sculpture”, Gadanayak said he had “made the country proud” on an international stage. Gadanayak added that the honours and awards bestowed on Mohapatra recognised his “sustained commitment towards the field of art and culture”, lauding the artist for “his generous and sustained support for the arts and culture of Odisha, and through the Raghunath Mohapatra Art and Crafts Foundation”.

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Updated Date: Jul 14, 2018 18:47:14 IST

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