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Just Sand, Water & Some Brilliant Art – Behind the Scenes With Puri’s Fascinating Sand Artists

Odisha’s coastal town of Puri is not only famous for the Jagannath Temple but also for the numerous sand artists who convert the Puri beach into an art gallery every now and then.  

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Sand and water obviously intrigue a child who grows up in a coastal town. Making sand castles or sand sculptures on the beach is a childhood delight. What is more fun is when the castle or sculpture gets washed away by a huge wave and then one has to per-force make another one.

It’s said that playing with sand and water is very good to improve motor skills and hence most art work found on the beach, is extremely creative, dexterous and unique.

“Sand art is very popular everywhere in the world. However, in India, till very recently, Puri was the only sand art destination. It is slowly catching up in other parts of the country now, with sand artists mushrooming not only in coastal towns like Mumbai and Mangalore, but also in places like Mysore, where there is no sea close-by, for miles together,” says Nikunja Kishor Nayak, an artist from Puri.

The ingredients for a sand sculpture are – only sand and water. It is the artist’s creativity that captures the hearts and minds of those who see the final creation.

Around 10 years ago, Puri beach was like an art gallery every evening. Sand artists would descend on the beach at around 4 pm and within a couple of hours they would come up with amazing sculptures for visitors to admire as they walked up and down the beach. The Puri beach has always been, and still is, the hub of all activity for tourists visiting this holy city.

“A few decades ago, one would only see sculptures of gods and goddesses carved out of sand on the beach. Over the years, artists have become more creative and are able to depict their views on social issues through their art work,” says sand artist Tarani Nayak, who is available at Puri beach every evening.

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An artist works with wet sand, on the beach and with his bare hands is able to create an amazing piece of art.  Beach artists usually earn a living out of the donations made to them by tourists and visitors who admire their art work and usually take pictures to keep a record of what they have seen. The artist usually destroys the sand sculpture, before he leaves for the night.

The next day, he is back with a fresh idea and creates yet another masterpiece on the sandy beach.

“To eke out a living from tourist donations is just not easy in today’s world. However, with sand art slowly becoming popular in other parts of the country, we are invited by various organisation to different places to make sand sculptures. Popular events where invitations are received from are the Dussera festivals in Bengal and many other festivals in North East India,” says Nikunja Kishore.

Very often at these festivals, colored sand is used to create the art work, making it a lot more eye-catching and attractive.

Of late, these artists are invited to events in non-coastal cities where they create sand sculptures in indoor as well as outdoor locations. This is a challenge at times, especially when it is an outdoor setting and in a hot or windy location. The artist has to continuously spray water on his/her sculpture to keep it intact.

“In these non-coastal locations too, we are able to keep a sand sculpture intact for at least 2-3 days. It is a little difficult to keep watering it especially when the sculpture is tall, but we have managed well, in every place that we have been invited to,” adds Tarani.

Interestingly, invitations to create sand sculptures at weddings is slowly becoming popular in many parts of the country. 

Renowned artists like Padma Shri, Sudarshan Patnaik too, started out as a young child playing in the sands of the Puri beach. Today, he runs a sand art school on the same beach, where he hones the skills of youngsters in this art form. Recently, IGNOU has introduced a 3-month course on sand art, where he is one of the main professors.

“For years the Odisha government has been planning to establish a Sand Art Park in Puri. A sand art park will ensure that artists have regular work and a regular income too,” continues Tarini.

Artists have been avoiding the beach, for many years now, as they have found alternate sources of income. Though sand art is their primary passion, they either take arts and crafts classes for children or are tattoo artists.

The sand artists of Puri are inspiring many with their work, but are waiting for a day when this art form will get a lot more recognition and will become increasingly popular in India.

For more on sand art one can check out www.purisandart.com or send mail to nk@purisandart.com

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About the author:
Aparna Menon is a freelance writer, writing for various newspapers for the past 10 years. Her main fields of interest are wildlife, heritage and history. A keen traveller, she loves to read and write and does a lot of art work too.