It was nearing dawn and Baladeva woke up, wiping the sleep off his eyes. It was a special day, one of worship, of peace and of divine dialog. Baladeva quickly got up to freshen himself culminating in a purifying bath as he lit the lamps within the chamber of his home and sat down to pray.
As his consciousness drew inwards into a more divine world, Baladeva let his imagination loose on the form of Lord Shiva. After several hours of deep meditation he offered himself as a medium requesting the Lord to descend through his imagination and his hands into the stone that he was going to create the Nataraja out of.
A learned man who had dedicated his life to making sculptures belonging to the iconographic family of Lord Shiva, Baladeva was a renowned sculptor in the Chalukyan court who belonged to the presiding guild of the time. He was well versed in the art of sculpture, he breathed the Shilpa shastra into every sculpture he made and this was divine worship to him.
On this day, he prayed that his worship would be an offering of everything he had, every thing he was capable of and every possible good thought he had ever had in these years of his life. He was getting into another world, into another realm where he detached from his earthly life, his wife and family, his court and wealth and retreated into this world far away from the calls of responsibility. He was here, just him and his imagination to enter into a dialog with the Lord.
Bowing down to the sacred shrine before him, asking the Lord to descend into stone through the passage of his imagination, Baladeva took up the tools and headed towards the divine stone that had remained soaked in water for over 18 days and had been treated to receive and house this divine energy that was soon going to be induced into it. He sat at the center of his chamber, with a lamp light flickering casting shadows of this rocky mass around the stone walls. He closed his eyes, as he felt the surface, to feel the form, to enter into the world of divine dialog.
In the silence of the chamber, as the rising sunlight streamed through the decorative grills of the jali window and the smoke of incense rose into the air clouding the chamber, the sounds of a metal digging into solid rock became more audible to the world outside. With his eyes closed and the thoughts nullified the Lord began to appear in divine light within his mind. He sat carving, his fingers energized by divine presence, his intense imagination was so strong that no noise of the outside world even remotely affected him. Food could wait, sleep could wait, breath could wait, wife could wait, children could wait, King could wait, war could wait but the music within the mind played along as he expressed himself minute after minute into his stony canvas.
Bhakti oozes from within the mind, trickling into reality in tiny drops of tears and sweat while the limbs move on feeling their way through the undulating form that makes up the Lord. Stony pieces rain around the room, dust bathes him, the fire continues to glow feeding into the oil and the shadow cast by the stone starts to take divine form. There is grace in His form, there is compassion in His hand mudras, there is wilderness in His jatamukuta [Head dress], there is beauty in His eyes, there is poetry in His stance, there is stability in His being, there is eternal love in His presence.
The thoughts don't waver and the channel of divine presence continues to stay alive as pure love enveloped in discipline, carves out this form that defines the true nature of the being within. As the beeja mantras of the Lord sprinkle forth in droplets of sound that whisper through the room, a mind works tirelessly on, to bring down that form to reality. For 40 days and 40 nights Baladeva worked on, sporadically taking to a meal made with care and purity, offered to the Lord and then consumed as he relayed his mind back into his imaginary world of charm and splendor bringing down every intricate detail into reality to be witnessed by all.
The sculpture came to completion and Baladeva gave his finer touches to it. The room, now in darkness held just two images within it, that of a sculptor looking up with awe for the first time to see a masterpiece and the second was the distinct shadow of the Lord dancing against the walls. In the darkness of the night, there was divine light within the room, in the silence of the night, one could hear the beats of the dancing lord, in the stillness of the night, one could feel the air swirl as he cut through it with His jatas [free flowing hair of Shiva in dance]. Baladeva gazed on exhausted, in complete bliss, ecstatic to see the Lord stand there in front of him. He bowed asking for the Lord's blessings as he raised the lamp light up to Him. He has now closed the divine channel, the Lord has descended, the stone is alive with life and the fire is his divine light to see and imbibe the presence of the Lord, flawless and beautiful in front of him.
Pure worship with discipline and devotion renders a man to perform amazing feats, when the mind is not distracted and is full of love and devotion. Its such an unthinkable feat these days...
Baladeva is a sculptor of the Chalukyan dynasty who specialized in making Shaivite Dwarapalas. His signature is found at the feet of these idols and his dwarapalas often come with a 3rd eye indicating his inclination more towards the Shiva faith. Baladeva is one of the rare names recorded in inscriptions representing ancient indian guilds of the Chalukyan era.
Picture is of Nataraja, belongs to the Madurai Meenakshi temple and is not of Chalukyan origin historically.