The UCSD-CISA3 Swamimalai Ethnoarchaeology project attempts to explore the lives of the traditional hereditary and non-hereditary bronze casters in this south Indian village. The hereditary bronze casters, or Sthapathis, trace their roots back more than 1,000 years to the time of the Medieval Chola empire. The bronze casters of Swamimalai have historically been from one community, the Vishvakarma Sthapathy caste, but not anymore. The post-independence (1947) Indian Government saw a need to remove caste categories as occupationally exclusive delineations and created schools to teach the 'lost wax' method of icon production to anyone interested in learning.This project explores the socio-economic and cultural conditions of existence faced by the bronze casters, which shape their lives. As a first step, an attempt has been made to situate the bronze sculptors geospatially so as to acquaint the world with these master craftsmen, their lives and their art.
Featuring UC San Diego archaeology Professor Tom Levy, this video is based on ethnoarchaeological research in the town of Swamimalai in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. For centuries Swamimalai has been the center of bronze Hindu icon manufacturing in the region, with its workshops passed down from generation to generation of hereditary sthapathis ('artisans' in Tamil).