Last year, on a trip in southern India, I met a man who makes gods.
Srikanda Stpathy was both a Brahman priest and an idol maker: the twenty-third of a long hereditary line going back to the Chola bronze casters who had created some of the greatest masterpieces of Indian art at the beginning of the Middle Ages. His workshop was in Swamimalai, near Tanjore, from where the Chola dynasty once ruled the southern half of the subcontinent. There he and his two elder brothers plied their trade, making gods and goddesses in exactly the same manner as their ancestors: “The gods created man,” he explained, “but here we are so blessed that we—simple men as we are—help create the gods.”
His forefathers, explained Srikanda, had settled in Swamimalai in the thirteenth century after one of them accidentally discovered that clay made from the especially fine silt at the bend in the Cauvery River on the edge of the town was uniquely well suited to making the molds in which the bronze idols were cast. This business has now kept the family employed for nearly seven hundred years. “It is with the blessings of the Almighty,” he said proudly, “that we have taken this birth, and are able to make our living in this way, creating gods in the form of man.”
Full report here National Interest