Rush Hour for the Gods

In South Asia, globalization and politicized religion are causing worlds to collide.

Issue: May-June 2010

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."

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