Sculptures are not new to our country. It is an artform that has evolved and been practised for centuries in our country. It is inseparable from Indian culture especially the idols that we find in the temples. One such idol which has an extremely interesting history is the huge Sai Baba statue at Shirdi. This statue was not installed in the Mahasamadhi till 1954.
The temple authorities belonging to the management of the Mahasamadhi of Sai Baba at Shirdi wanted a statue for the temple. They made a decision to commission three highly regarded sculptors from Bombay for the task. One of these artists was Balaji Vasant Talim.
Balaji was a talented sculptor who studied in Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai. While being faced with the mammoth task of creating this structure he wanted everything to be perfect. To begin with, he didn’t have a marble piece that he was impressed with. This is when a piece of white marble landed at the Mumbai docks all the way from Italy, but it had no details attached to it and remained unclaimed. It was then put up for auction and Balaji’s friend who was very impressed with the quality of the marble brought it to his attention, for the purpose of creating the idol. The material was found but there was still a long way to go for the completion of the herculean task.
Sculptors face multiple challenges throughout their life and one of those is the replication of reality. In this case Balaji was troubled due to the same fact. In order to replicate reality, he needed an accurate description of it and the only reference he had was a black and white picture taken before the death of Lord Sai Baba in 1918. Another point of difficulty for Balaji was that when he was given the task of making a sculpture, he always relied on the side profile of the subject in order to get the minute details and proportions right. This was not possible in this case because the only photograph he had was of a front profile picture. By virtue of also being a devotee, Balaji wanted to capture the essence of reality and spirituality and this is a very difficult task for a sculptor.
So, he didn’t start off with his masterpiece right away. He waited for inspiration to strike and it did. One fateful day, around three months after receiving the commission when Balaji was flummoxed with the challenges of the task, he prayed to Baba to help him and his prayers were answered. The artist says that for a few moments Baba himself came and visited Balaji in his studio. This was the turning point and the sculptor started working with a new zeal. What better way to get inspiration than from the subject himself. Balaji and his workmen worked very hard and finished the work in a short span of two weeks!
During the process of building the statue while almost reaching the end of the process, Balaji found a small air pocket below the Left Knee in a small additional portion of Baba’s statue. It was important to remove this additional portion in order to gain that perfection that Balaji desired but removing it was a very risky task. A small wrong calculation in the positioning of the chisel could result in the shattering of the entire statute which would just result in days of wasted labour. Balaji had set his mind and prayed to the saint himself and asked for his blessings. None of the workers were prepared to take on this risk so Balaji himself got down to do it. To everyone’s surprise, only the additional portion as the hammer struck the chisel.
The temple authorities were awestruck by the statue and described it as life-like. This was the statute that was chosen by the authorities for the temple once finishing touches were added. The statute is five-and-a-half-feet and it is filled with tiny details that make it look real. The face was especially something that is etched with details, making this sculpture one of a kind. The idol was installed in the temple on the day of Vijaydashmi.
Following this, the Talim studio gained a lot of traction and shifted from Tribhuvan Road to Girgaon. They have been involved in the creation of over 1500 statues of Sai Baba alone that were then transported to places all over the world. All these statutes are alike to the one that is at Shirdi because the same original cast used by Balaji is used for making the other statues. They work very hard on every statue they make because they need to retain the essence of the original statute that was made. This is why they have been commissioned to make statues for famous people like Vilasrao Deshmukh, Lata Mangeshkar and Manoj Kumar.
The Talim studio was also involved in the creation of noteworthy idols like the 22-feet iconic Gandhi statue in the garden near Mantralaya. They were also involved in the creation of the glorious Hutatama Smarak in South Mumbai. They are considered luminaries in the creation of Sai Baba statues and are consulted regularly by the Shirdi temple trust and are considered the final deciding authority in the matter.
The making of this statute was a culmination of hours of workmanship, creative genius and the blessing of the Saint himself. That is probably why lakhs of devotees travel every year from different parts of the country and the world to come to see this ingenious idol, they feel the presence of the saint himself. The successive miracles or happy coincidences that led to the making of this statute add to the spiritual importance of this statue. Lord Sai Baba believed in two things, faith and patience and it is by following those very teachings that Balaji Vasant Talim created such a masterpiece.