The High Standards of Nepali Buddha Statues

Nepali Buddha statues have been created using the lost wax casting method since the 10th century. Unfortunately, this traditional method has come under pressure from low cost manufacturers using mass reproduced replicas. However, in Nepal the traditional art form has remained as their national heritage. As a result, the lost wax sculpting method is still used to create the world’s best Buddha statues.

The Guarded Secrets of Nepali Buddha Statues

High quality cast metal artwork is very a complex art form. Indeed, it requires a lot of skill and patience. As a result, the tradition was mastered by a few families and then it was kept as a closely guarded secret. Therefore, over the centuries these castes have passed on their knowledge to descendants who carry on the family name and tradition.

Indeed, the lost wax sculpting method has remained a closely guarded secret in Nepal. However, in modern times some outsiders have acquired knowledge of the traditional method. Nonetheless, the impeccable worldwide reputation of these three families remains intact. As a result, they remain the most renown masters of their craft.

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Local Production of Nepali Buddha Statues

The metal working descendants of these three families are located in the southeast portion of the Kathmandu Valley. Additionally, they are primarily based in the ancient city of Patan (now known as Lalitpur Metropolitan City). As a result, Patan has become the production center for traditional sculptures. Indeed, all Nepali Buddha statues require a government certification from the department of archeology before they can be exported.

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Green Tara statue created in Patan, Nepal.

Who Are the Three Family Castes?

The family castes in Nepal are identified equally by name and also by the sculpting methods they have perfected. Indeed, their secrets and techniques for statue creation have been fiercely guarded within the caste. As a result, the associations of the family caste have been passed down for many centuries and they remain intact.

Tamrakar Caste

The word Tamrakar is Sanskrit in origin and it can be broken down into 2 parts. Tamra means copper and aakar means shape or to give shape to. Therefore, the Tamrakar are a caste of coppersmiths and other metal casters found in both Nepal and India.

In Nepal, the Tamrakars are found in the Kathmandu Valley among the Newar community. Additionally, the Nepali Tamrakar caste works primarily with bronze and brass sculpture to create handmade Nepali Buddha statues. Furthermore, the Tamrakars are renown for hand working their metal sculpture which is very time consuming.

Shakya Caste

The word Shakya is thought to be derived from the Sanskrit word Sakya which means “the one who is capable”. Additionally, Shakya family history dates back to the Vedic age in approximately 1000-500 BCE.

The Shakya caste creates Nepali Buddha statues using copper alloy as a base material. Additionally, the statues are typically gilded with 24 karat gold. Indeed, a master artisan can complete a fully gilded Buddha statue with a rather insignificant amount of gold. However, the aesthetic benefits are immense and also long lasting. As a result, a Nepali Buddha statue fully gilded in 24k gold will never tarnish and will indefinitely retain its brilliant golden luster.

Brilliant Golden Luster

This gold gilded Nepali Buddha statue features a brilliant luster.

The gold finish can have a high brilliance or it can be given a low luster which appears antiquated. Additionally, an even more rustic looking statue can be created with an oxidized copper finish. As a result, it will have a profound antiquated look. Our artisans are predominantly from the Shakya caste and their Nepali Buddha statues are the best in the world.

Swarnakar Caste

The Swarnakar are a Hindu caste of goldsmiths from India and Nepal. As a result, a unique characteristic about the Swarnakar is that they work primarily with gold Nepali Buddha statues and other statue themes. Unfortunately, there was limited information available about the Swarnakar lineage in Nepal. Therefore, it may be prudent to go to Nepal to meet them firsthand.

The “Lost Wax” Metal Casting Technique

Metal casting is the process of pouring hot liquid metal into a predefined cast. When it cools, it takes the shape of the cast and then can be broken out to reveal the desired shape. The next step is to polish the metal and any blemishes can be worked out if necessary.

However, the method used by the three Nepali castes is called the “lost wax method”. There is significant skill involved because a perfect wax replica of the Nepali Buddha statue must be created beforehand.

The next step is to create a clay mold around the wax sculpture and then melt out the wax. Once the wax is removed, hot molten metal is poured into the mold and allowed to cool. After the metal has cooled sufficiently, the mold can be removed.  

Common metals used for Nepali Buddha statues include brass, copper, bronze and also precious metals. However, in liquid form the metal is very malleable. Therefore, it is much easier to shape than stone or wood. Indeed, the lost wax method allows for intricate details to be included in sculpture which otherwise would not be possible. As a result, metal casting has been the predominant method used by metal sculptors for thousands of years. In fact, there have been cast metal artifacts found that have been dated to as early as 4500 BCE!

The Uncertain Future of Nepali Buddha Statues

Several decades ago the winds of change began to lower the standards used in creating Nepali Buddha statues. Unfortunately, in modern times most of the statues are now purchased by tourists instead of Buddhist practitioners. As a result, the quality and diversity in statue sophistication has been drastically simplified.

Indeed, original handmade Nepali Buddha statues are being replaced by cheap reproductions made in India. Indian Buddha statues are mass reproduced with reusable molds to satisfy the tourist market. As a result, if the traditional manufacturing technique is not cost effective it will become obsolete. Fortunately, for now, the market for high quality Nepali Buddha statues still exists. However, it is getting increasingly difficult for the traditional metal workers to stay in business.

World Class Nepali Buddha Statues

We offer a wide variety of world class Nepali Buddha statues for sale in our gallery. Additionally, all of the statues were hand crafted using the traditional lost wax sculpting method. As a result, you have the opportunity to purchase a wonderful Buddha statue that was made in the same way that is described in this post. Please enjoy browsing our wide selection of Nepali statues. If you have questions I am happy to provide any clarification you may need. 

Additional sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casting_(metalworking)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakya
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamrakar
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarnkar
  • http://www.artelino.eu/en/articles/nepal-statues/137-buddha-statues-nepal-1.html
  • http://www.shakyastatues.com/metalart
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost-wax_casting