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Nepali Buddhist Arts

By Devik Balami at
Nepali Buddhist Arts - Buddha Eyes

The Nepali history of artifacts and sculptures dates back around 2000 years with the earliest stone statue discovered being that of a headless “Yaksha” at a locality named Hadigaun in Kathmandu (1st Century AD). As a matter of fact, most of the antique and ancient statues from Nepal were that of the Hindu deities. Buddha statues and sculptures only started to appear from the 5th Century AD. The earliest of them was of a Buddha Head from the 7th century and a Buddha statue from 9th century. Another artifact that is considered one of the earliest is a Buddhist manuscript written with the golden letters in Tibetan Uchhen script, the “Aryan Asthasahasrika Prajnaparamita” which dates back to the 13th century AD.

Bronze Buddha statues were the earliest of the statues while statues made from copper date back to 10th century. These antique Buddha statues were made by an ancient technique named Lost Wax method, which is still practiced today. In this process, a wax model is made at start, which is then coated with clay leaving only a small opening. After the mold has dried, it is baked in a fire under high heat, melting the wax inside. The wax is then poured out through the opening and replaced by molten metal. Once it is cooled, the clay mold is broken to reveal the cast statue. The artists then give the finishing touches to the statues. Many of such statues were constructed to be kept in temples and monasteries. These temples and monasteries house some of the finest Buddha statues while there are many shops in the city of Kathmandu where beautifully crafted Hindu and Buddha statues are kept for sale.

Alongside Buddha statues, the art of Paubha or Thangka painting, is one of the finest Buddhist arts coming from the Kathmandu Valley. The word Paubha, Pau and Bha, is derived from the Newari term Patra Bhattarak. This means ‘depiction of god in a flat form’. The Tibetan version of these paintings is known as Thangkas. It is an ancient form of Buddhist art. The oldest Buddhist religious painting of Ratna Sambhava, dating late 12th Century or 13th century, is reportedly to be located in Los Angeles County Museum. Antique Tibetan thangkas were originally brought to Nepal from Tibet but such genuine antique paintings are rare to find these days. Though antique or not, these intriguing paintings are indeed fascinating and quite expensive, even if not unique. Most of these paintings are treat for the eyes due to the intricate details in the paintings about Buddhist philosophies and beliefs embedded upon them.

Pubha painting is started from the point of the making of the canvas, called ‘Patbhumibandhan’. A white canvas is first stretched out tight on a wooden frame. It is then rubbed with ‘kamaro’ (white clay) which provides the color that covers all the pores, and ‘saras’ (buffalo hide glue) which is the binding medium. Then, the artist begins sketching free hand on the prepared canvas on themes that are based on Buddhist religious texts. It can be observed that in most Buddhist paintings, the central deity is lodged on a pedestal that has a canopy above it while the cornices at the four corners are adorned with various figures. In sum total, this is the central point of a figurative temple. Next, the artist starts working with permanent ink over the sketch and once this is completed, painting begins. As far as the latter is concerned, five basic colours (red, blue, yellow, white and black) are used. These are made using mineral and vegetable sources. The source of the blue color is lapis lazuli while yellow color is produced using orpiment. Similarly, cinnabar is the source of the red colour while conch shell powder provides the pure white color. Black color is derived from the soot of burning pinewood. Aside from the basic colors, gold and silver are also used extensively. Gold dust is the main raw material for gold color while the Indigo plant provides a rich indigo color.

In conclusion, it must be said that a visit to the National Museum in Chauni of Kathmandu is well worth the visit to see some beautiful works of ancient art, including antique Buddha statues, Paubha paintings and other ancient sculptures to name a few.