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Footprints on the Sand: From Global Warming to Communal Harmony - An Interview with World Champion Sand Artist Sudarsan Pattnaik

Starting early life at the sea beach he did not know that his fascination with the sand will spread his name across the proverbial seven seas (saata samudra). Having experienced poverty in its cruelest form and being challenged by every day ordeals this boy rose to become one of the best ambassadors for his state and the country. By reviving the seven century old sand art, he has captured global attention and best of the artists’ imagination. To him this art is service and through this he has spread messages of universal brother hood, peace and love and this has been his path for self-exploration and self-realisation. He is none other than Mr. Sudarsan Pattnaik, an Odiya Icon.

His art have cut across national and cultural boundaries to represent global issues, themes and concerns. He has displayed his art and received rave reviews in many countries such as the US, Holland, Russia, UK, Germany, South Korea, Japan and Singapore etc. From Global Warming and its impact on endangered species to paying tribute to the international pop icon, Michael Jackson, Sudarsan through his unique sand art has put his country on the international pedestal. A proud Oriya and an ardent devotee of the Lord Jagannath, Mr Pattnaik is a humble human being. In a candid interview to Rashmi R. Parida, Mr Pattnaik talks about his path breaking journey, past and ongoing challenges, dreams and vision.

Orissadiary: Welcome to Orissa Diary, Please tell us something about your growing up years and how and when you got attracted to this magnificent art?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: Thank you. My early childhood was not a normal one like any other kid as I come from a very poor family from Puri. We are 3 brothers. Because of acute poverty we all could not complete our primary education. So when I think about my early childhood I get deeply disturbed of the missed opportunity.  With God’s will, at present I have learnt to speak, read and write more or less fluently in three to four languages (Oriya, Bengali, Hindi and English). I got attracted to this art when I was barely 12. As a child I liked to play with the sand on the beach and making or building something interesting was perhaps an extension of that playful nature.

Orissadiary: When and how did you learn and master this beautiful art of sand?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: Puri golden beach is only 3 kilometers from my house. Gradually I self-learnt the art on the beach as I was not going to the school. From the age of 12 I had started to go to the beach before the dawn and made some sand art and disappear (in fear of reprimand or rejection) before morning. I did this nearly 2 to 3 years. Then during midday I used to go back to the beach to see how people were reacting to my art. I felt very happy when people gradually appreciated my work. Initially the forms of sculptures were not of finished and good quality, as I did not have any professional training. Despite these limitations I pursued with vigor and an indomitable will to master the art. With the blessings of the Lord, I slowly but steadily raised my art to its current elevated status without compromising on the quality and purity. I have used my imagination and creativity and happy that it has earned accolades both at home and abroad.

Orissadiary: It is not that well known whether sand art in Orissa has a well documented history. Will you please share with us your insight to the historical and contemporary perspectives on this splendid art?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: During ancient and medieval times Sand art was very popular in Orissa. Sand art is mentioned in the writings of 14th Century great poet Balram Das of the Pancha Sakha fame. Despite vast coastlines and several beaches in India this art has not flourished in modern times. The bright side is that through my work people have appreciated the beauty of this art. I have a dream to popularize it through out the world and I am continuously working towards it.

At present Sand art is a very popular form of professional art in various countries. Many sand art competitions and festivals of international level are frequently held. The artists give live demonstration where thousands of people flock together to witness and appreciate the art in these mega events.

Orissadiary: Your art invariably represents contemporary global challenges. Is this a deliberate choice? How does this happen?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: I took up the challenge to popularize sand art as a professional art form and started exhibiting sand art at various places in India and abroad by giving a new content and meaning to its form. Now I am mixing this art with burning issues. So it is designed to catch up with the imagination of people and generate large scale awareness. By doing this sand art is gaining it’s recognition through out the world and people are getting aware on important issues such as Global Warming and HIV/AIDS.

Orissadiary: Many organizations and government agencies are using different mediums including the television and internet to create awareness on the issues you talked about. Do you feel/think that your medium is more effective or it is just complementary to these efforts?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: Yes I feel that my art is both complimentary and also more effective at the same time. You know how it is complimentary as it just another medium to spread awareness. But many have found it effective as this is an innovative (medium) art form that not only is rooted in our civilizational history and most importantly also is nature friendly.

Orissadiary: Your sand art has got international fame for being dynamic and timely. What are the key issues that you have chosen to show through your art?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: Thanks. Yes, in recent years I have got wide ranging positive feedbacks from international organizations. I took current national and international events on social problems such as World Peace, threatened Wild Life species (Olive Ridley Turtles, Tigers), Terrorism, Social Harmony, HIV-AIDS, World Sports, Global Warming, Bird Flu and recently Swine Flu, Human resources and problems of similar nature and depicted it through the form of SAND ART to create public awareness which has been extensively covered by the national and international electronic media like BBC, CNN, ABC, Doordarshan, Discovery, National Geography, NDTV, CNN-IBN and others as well as the print media. So I am grateful to the media support.

Recently my sand art on tribute to pop legend Michel Jackson got huge response from the international media. This sand art on Michel Jackson [Photo of Michel Jackson sand art] got published on famous Time magazine. My campaign on save to wild life [Save Tiger, Save Polar Bear, Save Olive Ridley] has also been supported by one and all. My endeavor has been to create awareness and bring social harmony. I think I have succeeded to some extent. Every year on special occasions like Ratha Yatra, Christmas, Durga Puja and Diwali etc I have created sand art to bring communal harmony among people of all religions, races, castes and others. In 2006, I created World’s longest Santa Clause on sand and this was placed in Limca Book of World Records.

Orissadiary: Your art on Global Warming won the USF World Double Championship at Berlin. Why did you choose Global Warming?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: I was inspired and motivated by TERI’s R.K. Pachauri. I appreciate his team’s (both at UN and TERI) efforts and initiatives in spreading awareness about the importance of environmental issues to protect our planet. When I came to know that some of the coastal places in Orissa will be affected by global warming I decided to use my art to create awareness on global warming in sand art world championship.

Orissadiary: How did it feel to win this internationally prestigious award? Has this created any pressure or you are inspired by it?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: I could not believe it. This is first time an Indian has won this award. It is a big honour for me and my country. I feel very proud for this award and I dedicate this award to my country. I am inspired by this award and for future I have great faith in my Lord, Lord Jagannath and I am sure the Lord will give me enough strength in my endeavours.

Orissadiary: You have received numerous international awards for your art. What has been the response of the governments both at the national and the state levels?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: World Championship is like any other international sports event where competitors from different countries participated in it. I am the first Indian to win this World Championship. I am yet to get some official response (or honour/recognition) from Central Government of India. After winning the World Championship at Berlin and the People's Choice Award in Moscow, I am yet to get some official response from the state government. Even if at times I have felt very sorry and some time embarrassed for this but I have decided not to give up my dream and my passion. I have to live with my sand art and make my (pradesh) Orissa and (desh) India proud through this art. People’s good will and Lord Jagganth’s blessing has been great for me and I pray this remains so till I live.

Orissadiary: What is your plan to popularize this art? What are your plans to promote sand art?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: In 1994 that I started Open Air Golden Sand Art Institute at Puri beach to provide professional training to budding artists to make these students learn and develop sand art as a sustainable form of art. Students from India and abroad are enrolled for projects, both regular and short term courses. My objective is to create a set of professional artists through regular curriculum in this school of art and culture in a Gurukul style of learning. I have also conducted training and workshops and demonstrated the art form in different fair and festivals in and around many countries to promote and popularize this art. Recently I have published a book on SAND ART.

Orissadiary: You have been trying to develop a Sand Art Park in Puri. How far have you gone in this direction?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: My only endeavor is to popularize this art and nothing else. Yes I am waiting for last 10 years for a piece of land from the government of Orissa to set up the Sand Art Park in Puri. I am spending my awards money on my students who are now like my extended family. My art is my life and I can not live without it. So my tryst with destiny goes on. I am hopeful that support will follow as I continue to put my heart and soul to my dream project.

Orissadiary: There has been some news that you have physically not been doing well. Has that affected your art?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: I will do this art till my last breath, so it is not matter of concern. Yes since the time I won the World Championship, I am feeling severe pain in spondylosis, treatment is going on and rest is on almighty. As you know for this
art you need huge amount of energy and require to put great physical labour as sand sculpture can only be shaped from tons and tons of sand.

Orissadiary: In a very young age you already have left your footprints on the Sand and we are sure many more will follow your path. Would you like to say a few words to Orissadiary (OD) team and readers?

Sudarsan Pattnaik: Thanks to the Lord. If I am able to inspire a few youngsters to take up this art, my dream will be fulfilled. At OD you have been doing a commendable work by putting development and cultural news on priority. I request to your valued readers to contribute (emotionally, intellectually and materially) to the cause of this great art and help this unique Odiya art to reach international levels. For more information on my work please visit the website; I will be happy to receive any encouragement from all art lovers and all Odiyas. Please contact me with your comments and contributions. Thank you again for taking interest in my work.

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