Last year, I was looking for a Guru Rinpoche statue to present to my lama and that’s how I discovered about the complicated work of statue making. There is a long tradition of handicraft in Kathmandu valley. The Newar people are the holder of this tradition, even though nowadays, it tends to be villagers from other ethnical groups who come to Kathmandu, and do these kinds of demanding works. Good statues are completely handmade and no detail should be neglected, if we wish the statue to be a good support for practice.
There are four stages during the making-process. First, the statue is designed in wax and casted into copper. The next step is to clean, smoothen and carve it. At this important stage, all the details of the design and facial expression are finalized. This is maybe the most creative part. After polishing, the statue is gold or silver-plated, with or without oxidizing touch, depending on the desired style. The last crucial stage is to paint the face with gold powder and water-colors (never wash the face of your statue with water and be careful if you fill it yourself, I once had a disastrous experience during saffron water inner washing: it leaked through the head, and even though the face was well protected, a bit of the eyebrow vanished, it was very sad…). After that, precious stones such as turquoise and coral can be inlaid in the jewel ornaments.
So, I did not know any of all these details at that time and I visited a large number of statue shops, looking at many faces, hands, dorjes and jewels. And one day I discovered a statue that was really outstanding and inspiring. All details were perfect; sitting on a double lotus, Guru Rinpoche’s semi-wrathful facial expression was striking, the design of the robes was in relief and it was even slightly carved in the back (looking at the details in the back of the deity gives good information about the quality of the work, even if you are not supposed to visualize it).
I went to visit the workshop of the sympathetic statue maker in Patan (southern Kathmandu, hosting most statue maker workshops) and witnessed part of the making process. It takes several weeks, and different specialists take care of the respective stages of making. The statue maker also explained that some stages, like gold plating, can be harmful for health. Nowadays they use good ventilation systems, but in the past, the workers were developing lung diseases because of inhaling the metal dust. As I could witness, the cleaning and carving stage is a tough work as well.
So, it was an interesting investigation and I hope it can help those of you who might not know about statues, but wish to do statue-shopping…
~ Yura from Russia