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Miniature art: in the magnificent 3mm universe

‘Sharpness & concentration to sculpt small wonders’

Subramaniam’s work holds the world record for being the smallest functional gold chain code padlock (Photo credit: Ganesh Subramaniam)

From carving inside the eye of a needle to creating a castle out of a grain of rice, miniature art has grown in popularity and amused people around the world.

For many, threading a thread through the eye of a needle would be one of the hardest things to do. It takes immense focus and patience to be successful.

And, here is Ganesh Subramanian, a goldsmith and miniature artist, who has perfected the art of the small and can fit entire sculptures inside that same pinhole. Subramaniam likes to shrink normal objects down to the size of a mustard seed.

“Small is beautiful, and so is my world. Most of my works are difficult to see with the naked eye. And therein lies their charm,” says Subramaniam India Media Group. Sculpted in unparalleled detail, Subramaniam’s mustard seed-sized sculptures can only be seen with a 12x objective.

Popularly known as the “nano artist of Kerala”, this 46-year-old man has produced around sixty miniature works. His last piece, Escape from Covid, emphasizes social awareness. Completed in 20 days, it features a man equipped with disinfectants, a face mask and a coronavirus chain-breaking medicine box shown in the background. The finished sculpture rests on a needle. According to the Subramaniam, the chain – which is gold – is thinner than a lock of hair.

Besides creating nano-figurines of Hindu gods and goddesses, he has also made tiny sculptures of Kathakali performers and historical figures. “I’ve made miniature models of everything from a dancing Nataraja to ‘Ananthashayanam,’ all in 22-karat gold,” he adds.

Big efforts behind the small sculptures


Subramaniam says he tires his eyes after hours of focus and concentration

What started as a hobby in 2005 with a 30mg sculpture of a rower with his boat quickly turned into a passion for Subramaniam. “I first experienced success 16 years ago when I made a miniature boat and rower. It was made after several months of trial and error. Even the choice of working tool was a challenge. I use a tool made from the usual sewing needles for all the work. A 20x objective is used when making the models,” he explains.

He further adds that each miniature sculpture requires at least three months to complete. To give an idea of ​​the size of the models, he arranges each of them on grains of rice, needle points or pencil points. In some cases he used the needle hole himself, as in the case of a peacock on a tree.

“Sight is the key to this work. Every day of carving creates so much strain on the eyes,” he says.

Although he has carved replicas of historical monuments such as the Taj Mahal and figures of Hindu deities, the piece closest to his heart is the Anantha Vijayam, a ring engraved with a 3mm high figure of the Lord Vishnu. Made in 2009 for Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, from the former royal family of Travancore, it remains one of his most prized creations. “As soon as a button on the ring is pressed, a lens appears through which the idol of Lord Vishnu can be seen,” adds Subramaniam.

Although the Anantha Vijayam was his favorite and acclaimed, what really challenged him was designing a miniature version of a working code lock. The work holds the world record for being the smallest functional gold chain code lock. “It has a three-digit combination like normal locks. I was only able to complete it on my second attempt because a slight misalignment could cause the lock to malfunction,” he explains.

Many accolades for miniature art

miniature gold statue of Nataraja

A miniature gold statue of Nataraja on a grain of rice

News of the ring reached Malayalam actor Mohanlal who asked Ganesh to make him a similar one in 2010. “Mohanlal saw the ring and asked for a Lord Shiva on the ring he was wearing,” says- he. After Mohanlal, many collectors ordered the ring. Currently, different versions of the ring, all made by Subramaniam, are owned by approximately 15 people worldwide.

Former APJ President Abdul Kalam had also sent him a letter of thanks for his miniature cannon. Inspired by the lines of cannons used in the 19th century, it is 4.75mm long and 1.30mm high and took two months of strenuous effort to shape. “I had a lot of trouble with the gun wheels, which is really complex,” says Subramaniam.

Subramaniam further says that miniature art in its true form is very fine, precise and difficult. It becomes expensive and time consuming. The government should offer a degree in Indian miniature art in schools across the country. This will help bring out a new generation of skilled artists in this ancient Indian art,” he adds.

He earned a PhD from the International Tamil University, USA, and is now considering ways to pass on his knowledge to the next generation.

With the easing of restrictions on international travel, he hopes things will turn in his favor. “Special arrangements are required to transport my miniature sculptures. Unlike a normal art exhibition, each work additionally needs a lens placed next to it to let people understand its original size,” he says.

Subramaniam dreams of one day creating a museum of the smallest sculptures in the world. He has held solo exhibitions in cities such as Hyderabad, Delhi and Chennai, but now wishes to exhibit abroad as well.


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