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We are pleased to welcome Nagaraj Shenoy to the pages of the E-zine. Dr. Shenoy is a relatively new carver, having started this past summer, and I think you'll agree he is doing quite well. He notes, "Carvings of Ivan Whillock were my greatest inspiration and I should thank him for that."

Dr. Shenoy is a computer scientist by profession, currently working as a research associate professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

-M. Kelley, Editor


East Meets West . . .
Through the medium of wood

By Nagaraj Shenoy, PhD

As a visitor from India, I had the opportunity to get to know of the works of several wood carvers in this country - thanks to the web. Some of them really inspired me into learning this beautiful art. In this article I would like to share with you some of my creations that I attempted using the wood locally available - western wood/tools, eastern themes.

Indian sculptures are normally carved in black granite (one of the hardest stones) and the themes are almost always religious. Most of the temples I visited in India have intricately carved  mythological figures either in relief or in-the-round. Some parts of India also have wooden sculptures, but probably less in number compared to the stone carvings. Teak wood and jack fruit (a tropical fruit) wood  are the most popular woods used for carving. In Northern India you can also find carvings in Walnut wood (lighter in color than the American variety). Carving is a profession to most carvers in India rather than  a hobby and often it is hereditary profession passed on over generations. These carvers learn the art from their parents when they are hardly teen-agers. The tools used are often very simple - no more than home made chisels. Yet the kind of details they carve is really amazing!

I started wood carving after I came to this country.  Having grown up in  a culture where art and religion are almost synonymous, the most natural thing for me to carve were religious symbols.

My first carving was a popular figure of Buddha, namely the Laughing Buddha in American back walnut. Though the original "Laughing Buddha" in China is in a sitting posture, there are several variations of the same, as this one. It is also called Happy Man and is often depicted as a comical character. My reverence to Buddha made me carve it in a less comical way. I had a set of Flexcut palm tools which I used to carve this figure. These tools are good, but I found that walnut is a bit too hard to carve with just palm tools.

After carving walnut, I chose Honduras Mahogany for my next carving. I was amazed at the excellent properties of this wood. I did not like the grain though. But the wood is very easy to carve and finishes well. This carving - titled Vrikshaka (wood nymph) is based on a 7th century Indian sculpture described in a book on Indian sculpture (5000 years of Indian Sculpture ... ). Indians visualize god in every living and non living thing. This specific form is a visualization of the divine in the trees (Vriksha literally means tree) in the form of a nymph. As a result of several invasions from outside, most of the sculptures in India (like this one) are today in a highly mutilated state.


Like many of the ancient cultures, Indian mythology is full of demigods which are not necessarily human like. You often find human figures with animal heads (or vice versa). The one you see here is the Garuda - half human half bird demigod. As per the Hindu mythology, Garuda and Snake Gods are cousins and due to rivalry between them, Garuda is often depicted as fighting with Snakes. This particular one is a Tibetan version of the Garuda which is slightly different from the traditional Indian form. In the Indian sculptures, this demigod has almost a human like body except for the wings and a long beak like nose.

Like the second coming of Jesus in the Christian world, or the emergence of Kalki in the Hindu world, Buddhist also believe that when 'the end' approaches, the Buddha would reappear as Maithreya. The word literally means 'a friend'. When I saw the original  Tibetan line art  of Maithreya on the web, the first thought that came to my mind was 'can I carve this in wood ?'. The original had too many intricate details that I had to skip both because they made carving difficult and time consuming and also because the peripheral details defocused the main subject.
The raised hand is a well known gesture of 'Abhaya' which means "fear not, I shall protect you". This personifies the hopes of the people that their beloved would ultimately come to their rescue. I don't  know why unlike the traditional Buddha images, this one looks more like a king than a monk.


Let me conclude this article with one more of my Buddha carvings.  When I last visited the Woodcraft store in Minnesota, a friendly salesman gifted me a small piece of Butternut wood to try out. I am told that  Butternut is almost extinct in America and available only in some states such as Minnesota. I had never carved this wood before.    I was perplexed by the dark grain patterns and too many worm holes (the latter may be the cause of extinction) and did not know what could be carved in such a wood with dominating characteristics. Finally, I decided on this semi abstract theme, which seemed to mesh well with the nice grains. I should say, it is an extremely beautiful wood and competes well with Mahogany if only you can find a subject that does not get threatened by the heavy grains.

Here, the Buddha is shown as sleeping peacefully by resting one of his feet on the head of an angry lion. The lion is supposed to symbolize various temptations and Buddhahood is all about  being un-perturbed by them and remaining  in inner peace.


You may email Nagaraj Shenoy at nagarajshenoy@hotmail.com