Treasure of Nepal - Sample Flip Book

garywornell

A few pages of Treasure of Nepal to give a taste of layout and content.

© 2016 - Gary Wornell

Text and photography – Gary Wornell

Graphic design – Philippe Gueissaz

Publisher – Maahenki Oy

Printed by Bookwell, Porvoo 2016

ISBN 978-952-301-082-6


CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION7

THANKS171

COPPER CASTING 11

THANGKA PAINTING 29

GILDING 47

COPPER FORMING 61

WOOD 73

STONE 91

DRUMS 107

SILK THANGKA 123

JEWELLERY 139

PAPER 155


INTRODUCTION

In 2012 I took part in the Kathmandu International Arts Festival and lived for

a month in Patan on the south side of Kathmandu where so many of the craft

workshops featured in this book are located. Everywhere you go in Patan there

is evidence of craft; workshops line the streets, and the sounds of hammering metal

and chipping wood fill the air. Golden statues, wooden and stone carvings, textiles,

jewellery, thangkas and religious artifacts are everywhere. It is an intoxicating world

of work done by hand.

My first profession was ceramics. From childhood I had a fascination with clay and

after leaving university I established my studio on the east coast of England. For 25

years I worked in that studio, a place not unlike the ones in this book. The shelves

were lined with new ideas gestating, old ideas as inspiration, found objects and

raw materials. For many years I worked with porcelain, that finest of white clays

so familiar with the traditions of the East. But soon I started working with red clays,

the natural clays of England, with a strong desire to explore and discover another

world. Each material has its own qualities, its own language of form, its own spirit

and it is the skill of the craftsperson to find that language and connect to that spirit.

The fine white of porcelain that dusted the shelves and surfaces of my studio eventually

became the red dust of terracotta and during that transition I felt a deep

satisfaction from taking a leap into the unknown and finding my way. When the kiln

was opened after a firing and the pots emerged for the first time, I had the feeling

that the gods had played a part in their creation; the intense heat transforming the

cold clay into objects of beauty. The gods in my world were not the gods of a particular

religion or belief. They represented only a level of awareness; an intimacy

and knowledge of the materials I was using, and an intuitive understanding of why

things turn out the way they do. There are no short cuts to be taken in craft. From

beginning to end it requires a full commitment. Awareness is the key.

It takes decades to develop hand-craft skills. Each craftsperson I encountered in

Nepal has been through a long period of training – and an even longer period of

making. The basic techniques used in these studios are much the same as they have

been for hundreds of years. The tools are much the same. In some cases power

tools have replaced the hand tools saving time, but for the most part the artisans


work as their ancestors did – just with their hands and the tools they have made

themselves with knowledge passed on from one generation to the next.

In early 2013 I began working as visual consultant on a Finnish bilateral environmental

monitoring project and continued this work in the spring of the following

year. During that time I had the opportunity to travel to the east and west of Nepal

and saw the evidence of craft in every community. In each village people created

objects using available local materials.

I started photographing in the late autumn of 2014 during a three-month stay in

Kathmandu. My first idea was to create a series of craft based articles for magazines.

These would be visual stories about the intimate working spaces of craftsmen

and women who lived their lives immersed in their craft, undisturbed by the flow of

visitors wandering the streets of the capital. As I began to work, this idea changed

and Treasure of Nepal began to take shape.

I talked with my two friends, Shailaja Kasaju and Anmol Bajracharya and in a few

days they had a list of workshops in the Kathmandu valley and a rough timetable

put together for us to start. It was their work that made this project a reality; Shailaja’s

comprehensive knowledge of the city and the people working in these crafts and

Anmol’s logistics and assistance with lighting gave me access to places no tourists

have ever been. We travelled the length and breadth of the valley – the two of them

on Anmol’s motorbike and me on my bicycle following close behind.

By January 2015 we had discovered an endless source of workshops and factories

in the valley. I soon realized that this would take much longer than anticipated. I

had not only been photographing the craft work of these people, but I had also

been welcomed into their communities with such hospitality that we ate and drank

together, hiked together, and went to the temples together when they prayed.

On April 25, 2015 I was in my apartment in Sukedhara in the east of Kathmandu

editing a video when the earthquake struck. The impact of that event had a profound

effect on me. It initiated a paradigm shift in my thinking, and brought me

closer to the Nepalese and their plight. Work on this project stopped suddenly. Studios

and workshops collapsed and many lost workers and family. The photography

continued in late 2015 and was completed in spring of 2016. During that time I

managed to photograph some two dozen studios in the Kathmandu valley.


The work in this book covers both secular and religious crafts. It is hard to draw

a line between them because each craft is connected to the religious and spiritual

context of the Nepalese culture. The diversity of the work, the skills, the objects that

emerge from these activities provide us with a comprehensive picture of the Nepalese

and their lives at a time when technology is transforming the country into a

modern society.

Social, economic and environmental changes in Nepal are taking place at a rapid

pace. Education is providing opportunities to more and more young people in

Nepal. Illiteracy is becoming a thing of the past. The Internet exposes children to a

world that their parents were unaware of when they began their vocations. The life

choices of the young are expanding and many are migrating to developed countries

to pursue careers that are not possible at the moment in Nepal. The children

of uneducated craftspeople see the world very differently to the way their parents

do and they face difficult community choices in leaving the family tradition behind.

In the next two decades skilled workers in their prime will get old and retire and

there will be fewer and fewer people to replace them. Tradition runs very deep in

this nation; customs and values will not change overnight, but the craftspeople in

small workshops that are scattered around the Kathmandu valley will inevitably face

challenges as new technologies replace the work of their hands.

Gary Wornell

Riihimäki 2016


COPPER

CASTING

धलोत


COPPER CASTING

It’s 4:00 am and under the thick blanket on my bed I can hear sounds coming

from the yard below my window. These January days start cold. It’s pitch black

outside and I can see my breath as I shuffle into my jeans and head for the

bathroom across the hall. The house is waking and Pradiip Maharjan is already up

and has disappeared down the stairs to start the fires. Today he is casting copper

– months of delicate wax carvings buried underneath clay and cow dung moulds –

strange shapes that bear little relation to the forms inside.

Outside I find Pradiip and another worker crouched at different ends of the rough

brick kiln. The top is open; flames are starting to lick against the inside walls from

the fires underneath. All around the base long wooden planks are sticking out of

the fireboxes and a bright orange glow is crackling as the heat intensifies. I ask him

if all is going well and he nods and smiles. Smoke rises above the kiln, drifts up to

the high corrugated iron roof and drifts into the Kathmandu morning sky. The sun is

rising and the dogs are barking.

Pradiip’s wife comes out with a flask of hot spicy milk tea and deep fried Sel roti –

an oily doughnut shaped rice flour sweet. We drink together and talk about the day

ahead. The yard is busy with workers starting their chores; some are here for the

casting, some to tend the fires and one man, the metal expert is in charge of mixing

the metals melting in the furnace.

Pradiip has been creating these statues for 15 years – 6 of those in this house he

built himself. He started this work because he knew he could develop the skills to

make the sculptures and the profession had a good reputation for making money.

His first year was a real challenge though and he even considered changing profession

at some point, but didn’t want to waste a year of his time so he took additional

training and improved his skills.

12

A wax model being created of Mañjusri, the oldest and most significant

bodhisattva in Mahayana literature.


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14


He has a team of craftspeople working in different studios around the Kathmandu

valley engaged in various stages of production. He makes the works only by commission;

people send photographs of existing sculptures or pictures of old thangkas

and specify the size and finish they want. From these 2-dimensional images Pradiip

and his workers create full-scale clay models following the precise shape and proportions

of the ancient figures. Fibreglass moulds are then created from the clay

forms and from these the hot wax components are made before being assembled.

The larger works can take up to 5 months from the modelling of the clay to the delivery

of the completed piece, involving around 15 craft workers from start to finish.

Inside the house there is the smell of burning paraffin as his workers heat iron tools

to melt the pieces together. Two craftsmen sit by the gas burner in front of a pot of

melting wax. Dozens of formed objects surround them; heads, lotus leaves, body

parts ready for assembly. On the floor there is a large Buddha covered in fine ornamentation

and a worker is applying a bracelet to the upper arm with a hot iron.

The dark brown material glistens as it melts, then cools as the armband is held in

place. Motifs are added piece by piece to the form – a work this size can take several

months before it is ready for casting.

Outside in the yard I see Pradiip’s mother come from the house; a small dish in her

hand with a candle, red Poinsettia leaves, and some red and yellow powder – an

offering to the gods to bless the casting of these religious works. The ground is

blessed; the wood used for firing is blessed and so too is the kiln. She walks around

the yard, goes over to the kiln and as Pradiip stokes the fire she places a few leaves

on the corrugated tin sheets that have been placed over the flames and blesses the

coming day’s work.

By 7am the fire is raging – the bright red moulds are smoking as the wax melts

inside. At small outlets at the base the molten material is pouring into pots for re-

Left: An armband is applied to a wax model of Mañjusri by a craftsman at

Pradiip’s Stupa Handicrafts workshop.

Top: Cow dung, clay and rice husks are applied to a wax model before

casting.

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metal, he is in regular demand and travels around the country for months on end

before returning to his home in India.

When the works leave the carvers they are taken back to Patan where they are polished,

buffed and prepared for gilding. As the rest of the city rushes home in the

evening, the workshops dependent on electricity make use of the intermittent supply

for their power tools. Power cuts and load shedding are so common and irregular

that the factories have to work whenever the supply returns. The factory Pradiip uses

is down a narrow passage, not far from his own workshop off a main road on the

south side of Patan. Access is down narrow steps, into a muddy lane and through

an unmarked metal gate. If you hadn’t been there before it would be impossible to

find.

From the outside the building looks like a cow shed, which it probably was at some

point; roughly thrown together with sheet metal and brick walls. One very dim fluorescent

light barely throws enough illumination into the room to see to the other

end and I wondered just how difficult it must be for these workers to see what they

are doing. It is hard to imagine that the final destination of the sculptures scattered

about on the floor inside will be monastery or temple when you see the rough journey

they have taken from wax casting to this point.

Inside the dimly lit room the body of a large copper Buddha sits headless in the

lotus position. The creation of the heads seems to be a special art of its own, and

on the larger figures these are often welded in place when most of the other work is

done. You can always weld a hand back on and attach a broken piece of clothing,

but the head is the thing that the client examines first and its expression and quality

determine the value of the piece as a whole.

The man in charge of buffing was on his mobile when I arrived. His leather jacket

echoed the clothing on the headless Buddha in front of me and even the colour

was the same. A giant single-phase electric motor attached to a plank of wood was

22

Right: A craftsman uses a small hammer and chisel to carve fine detail into

the copper casting.

Top: The team of carvers and finishers take a break in the afternoon sun

from their working day with family.


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Newly cast bronze dorjes in a small factory in Kapan, Kathmandu.


Cast bells in a Hindu temple in Bhaktapur.


GILDING

जलप


GILDING

Ram Krishna Prajapati’s gilding workshop is at the top of his 5 storey house

on a back street of Patan. I had bicycled across town from my apartment

in Lazimpat earlier in the morning – camera bags, helmet and a facemask

strapped on tight against the toxic fumes from the heavy morning traffic. I had decided

to put on my Arctic down jacket and leather gloves against the cold. January

nights can get really icy in Kathmandu and when I started out, even with the gloves

on, I was freezing. Freezing in Kathmandu doesn’t compare with the freezing I left

behind in Finland – my first winter away from the snow in more than a decade.

I’m curious to see Ram’s place and Pradiip Maharjan, the sculptor, has arranged to

take me. Everywhere you go in Nepal you find gold. Every temple, every monastery

has statues of gods both Hindu and Buddhist. The lines between these two religions

seem to be fuzzy at the edges, especially in Nepal and the Nepali’s I have met don’t

bother much with the details. In any case gold is the metal of the gods and deities

and it is used in its purest 24-carat form.

Once I’m over the Bagmati River the worst is behind me, and the ride through the

old city is always a joy. I navigate the cramped streets lined with shops selling thangka

and tee-shirts and stuff for the tourists, past Patan Durbar square with its brick

paved roads and ancient temples and through the narrow alleyways down the hill

towards the ring road. By the time I reached Pradiip’s house I am sweating underneath

the layers as the day has suddenly turned warm in the bright sun.

Cycling is by far the fasted way to get around town. Kathmandu traffic doesn’t

obey any rules and horns are used more than direction indicators to clear the path

ahead. Given the density of the traffic in the early morning, the horn doesn’t help

much, but that doesn’t seem to deter the drivers from using them. Between the

48

Right: The gold coating comes to its full lustre after the mixture containing

mercury is heated with a blowtorch. Here the craftsman is inspecting the

finish after the firing has been completed.


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motorcycles, scooters, cars, lorries and public transport vehicles – oh, and random

jaywalkers – it can be a pretty hazardous journey from one side of town to another.

On the south side of Patan the small roads are mostly clear and in minutes I’m

opening the corrugated iron gate to Stupa Handicrafts and Pradiip’s house. Anmol

and Shailaja are already there having tea and soon we head off with Pradiip on two

motorbikes to Ram’s workshop.

The lane where Ram lives and works is too narrow for parking, so we stop around

the corner and happen upon him and a couple of his workers with a life size statue

of a god in the lotus position, outside a welder’s having some small repairs done.

The bright gold of the god looks surreal in the intense sunlight, steam rising from

the heated metal as he pours cold water on the join. He inspects the work, says

something in Nepali and he and the men promptly pick up the statue and return to

the workshop.

When we arrive at the steps to the house, someone is already waiting at the window

on the second floor and throws the door key down to us on a long string. It dangles

in front of the lock, and after we let ourselves in the key disappears up in the air and

through the window.

Ram has been a gilder for more than twelve years now. Before he learned the craft

he had kept a grocery shop locally. It was his wife who had practiced the craft and

soon after they got married he began to learn it and quickly developed a passion

for the fine art of gilding. For a few years the two of them worked together until the

business began to pick up. Their work stood out from the others – quality and finish

were well above the competition, and soon he was employing 5 craftsmen, then 7

and now he has 15 people working for him.

Left: Detail of the fine carving and polishing on a large copper casting. Soon

it will be taken to another workshop where the face will be painted with

brushed-on gold and the eyes and lip details added.

Top: 24 carat gold is cut into thin strips prior to mixing with mercury.

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COPPER

FORMING

तामाको पाता


COPPER FORMING

Inside Rabindra Shakya’s Image Atelier, the dark copper face of a Buddha towers

above me standing more than four meters high on a steel frame. The eyes,

half closed, stare at a space on the floor relaxed and in meditation. The workshop

is the largest I have seen in Nepal: a hollow three story high building in brick

and reinforced concrete. A spiral staircase in one corner leads up to a series of

narrow concrete walkways lined with copper sheets, parts of sculptures and poster

prints of assorted deities. Below, the floor is covered in copper sculptures in various

states of completion.

The noise of hammering is intense – metal on metal – sharp to the ear competing

with the Hindi pop songs from the radio. At the entrance to the workshop craftsmen

sit on wooden benches, their backs to the light, absorbed in their work, partly

formed objects propped against polished steel formers. Rabindra’s brother is working

on a large rectangular copper plinth, drilling holes into the bright metal and offering

up small, carved copper details to check their fit. A woman with a grass brush

walks across the open spaces sweeping up the dust as the sun streams in through

the high windows from the south.

Rabindra comes from a long family tradition of metal workers. He learned his skills

in small cramped rooms on the ground floor of the family home where his father

and brothers worked. In my journeys around Kathmandu, I had discovered many

of these small workshops, shutters opened to the street, workers sitting on the floor

crouched over and tapping into metal sheet. Stacks of copper lined the walls, black

pitch in well-worn kettles smoked on gas burners. On cooler winter days they would

sit outside on the street in the bright sun, fingerless woollen gloves keeping their

hands warm, working until the light faded. Electricity is always in short supply in

62

Right: A large beaten copper statue sits in the corner of Rabindra’s workshop

in Patan, Kathmandu.


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Kathmandu and I have often thought how this shortage of power has contributed

to the preservation of these handcrafts. There are always younger boys standing

around, engaged in conversation, laughing, learning – watching the hammer and

chisel pick out the details, line by line. Apprentices often work from home. They have

a chance to prove themselves on the smaller works before they can get a place in a

studio like Image Atelier.

Rabindra’s workshop has been handed down from one generation to the next creating

both Buddhist and Hindu sculptures for temples and monasteries as well as

for private customers. They practice the traditional craft of Thodya (embossing in

metal sheet) Majha (giving complete form) as it is called in Newari or repoussé as

it is called here in the West. In Thodya Majha larger metal sheet is worked from the

front and back against formers, and for the smaller details the chasing method is

used from the front of the object supported by a hardened pitch mould.

After the earthquake in 2015 not much had changed at least to the workshop and

the works in progress as far as I could see. The craftsmen took time off to return

to their villages and rebuild temporary housing for their families as well as helping

out with relief work in the neighbouring communities. I made several visits from late

2014 to 2016 leaving my home in the north east of the city by bicycle or scooter

along the busy ring road; a journey of about ten kilometres south to Patan. It was

always an adventure.

The roads, before the quake, had been undergoing construction – an incomplete

section of dual carriageway seemed to be years in the making, and after the quake

huge gaps had appeared cutting across the tarmac through the landscape to precarious

leaning and cracked houses on the roadside. There were places where the

surface had risen by half a metre. Temporary dirt ramps had opened up the road

again but traffic was bottlenecked in several places where four lanes were squeezed

Left: The head of a large copper Buddha made using the traditional repoussé

technique.

Top: Two workers discuss the construction of the base of a copper statue.

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WOOD

काठ क ुद ्न े


WOOD CARVING

Ratnamani Bramhacharya’s home and workshop is tucked away on a hillside

in the village of Bungamati in Lalitpur on the southern side of Kathmandu.

It’s December and the days are cool and bright. Anmol, Shailaja and I met

Ratna at his small shop in Patan and followed him over the busy ring road and out

into the green countryside to Bungamati. This area is known for woodcarving –

every household has some connection to the craft. Village shops line the streets and

people are sitting out on steps in the sun, dogs wander lazily across the road and

chickens scamper to safety as we pass. Here the air is clean and fresh and rice fields

are dotted between the new concrete buildings and the older houses.

Ratna has been working for over 30 years and has practiced more than a dozen

crafts. His family profession was tailoring and it was through them that he became

interested in craft. His family came from Tilaurakot; a direct line of descent from

his family to the Buddha’s. It was this family connection that inspired him to create

religious works and by the time he was 12, Ratna had visited temples and watched

the work of other craftsmen, spending the early days of his childhood listening to

historians and people who told him the tales surrounding the old temple’s gods

and goddesses. Gradually he moved to working with wood; here in Bungamati

everyone understands wood. It is only through the shared interest of community that

craftsmen can flourish. With all the work he and his workers have, it is not easy to

make a living.

We enter the property through the low wooden doorway of an old brick building,

past a dark passage and out again into the bright sunlight to Ratna’s home and

workshop – a fairly recent 5-story house built into the side of a hill. The house is

built as separate rooms accessed by walkways and staircases open to the air and I

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Right: Carvings are often created in relief, referencing old photographs when

there are no physical models available. The images are so familiar to these

craft workers than they can translate the two dimensional representation into

three dimensions, drawing on years of practice.


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wondered what it must be like moving around from one room to another on cold

winter days when the wind is blowing. We are invited up to the second floor, passing

stacks of drying wood on the way. Shailaja and Anmol talk with Ratna in Nepalese.

Shailaja has been teaching me Nepali a few times a week and the sounds are becoming

familiar to me – in fact I’ve been able to read the signs on shops and notice

boards with increasing success, but listening to their conversation I’m lost.

The room is unpainted concrete – somehow beautiful in its raw simplicity, and is

furnished with some of Ratna’s intricately carved tables, a sofa, some chairs, a cupboard

and a bed. We sit talking for a while, Shailaja translating the conversation

as Ratna tells me how he ended up as a wood carver, and what he loves about the

craft.

Inside the workshop a broad shaft of sunlight streams through the dusty window.

Two women sit cross-legged on straw mats by the door, and a row of men sit on a

raised concrete platform chipping away at small wooden blocks. In the middle of

the room there is a large piece of Kapur Camphor. The wood for this 5-foot high

god has been drying for the last 8 years and as Ratna sits with his wooden mallet

and steel chisel hammering away, the strong smell of camphor permeates the air.

This sculpture will take him 5 months to complete.

Ratna’s time is divided between the shop in Patan and here in Bungamati where his

family live. In town he works with his wife inside the shop, greeting customers as they

pass by, offering them tea and chatting while he chips away at the wood at his feet.

Here in this quiet village he can work with the other workers without distractions.

Each worker seems to be in meditation. They sit huddled in their warm jackets,

holding the wood steady with their feet, toes acting like vices, easily released and

gripped again as the wood turns. A large mandala is being intricately carved. Half

a dozen fine steel chisels lie on the surface and the carver alternates between them

Left: A large carving of a Buddha made from Kapur Camphor will take 5

months to complete.

Top: Carved objects in various states of completion sit on the floor of Ratna’s

workshop in Bungamati, Lalitpur.

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STONE

ढ ुङ्गा क ुद ्न े


STONE CARVING

In an open space in Bhol Doka down near the ring road on the outskirts of

Kathmandu there is a large dry field surrounded by brick shacks and four story

houses with walled gardens. The shadows are softened today by a faint cloud

covering and haze in the air. Laundry is hanging over balconies and strung between

iron poles on the rooftops in the morning sun. Open areas this size are rare in

the city. Some young boys are making use of the space: scattered about in small

groups kicking sand-coloured footballs about in their flip-flops. Their voices are

faint against the sounds of hammer and chisel chipping away at blocks of stone in

a far corner of the field.

A man sits on a rice straw mat placed on a large stone, hammer in one hand and

chisel in the other, scattered fragments of stone forming a carpet around him. I’m

drawn to the sound. As I approach, he looks up at me; the thin wisps of hair on his

upper lip and his tinted sunglasses are powdered with grey dust. He smiles. Behind

him a large torso of Buddha sits on the gravel, stone chips on the ground, bowl

in hand, the outline of a robe cut across the chest. To one side, another carver sits

astride the head, working his chisel chip by chip through the curls of hair.

In Patan these sounds of the carvers can also be heard coming from a few small

workshops nested in amongst the corner shops and grocery stores. Inside a small

room two men sit bent over grey stones propped up on wooden blocks on either

side of the door that opens to the street. Light streams in from the south. Outside,

women carrying straw baskets walk by and dogs lie in the dust next to the teashop.

This is Ashoke Bajracharya’s place.

It’s hard work carving gods and as in many of the religious crafts in Nepal it requires

a deep understanding of the scriptures. You need to know them intimately.

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Right: At one end of a field in Patan, a stone carver works on

the base of a statue.


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These are not just skilled craftsmen. They have studied the texts and the early carvings

in the temples of the city. Carving isn’t just about the ability to create forms from

a block of stone. The meaning behind each gesture, each object being held, each

ornament must be understood before work begins. There is a strict geometry to follow.

Traditional proportions are observed, but in the end the work must go beyond

the material world and into another: one occupied by the gods and goddesses of

the Buddhist and Hindu faiths.

Ashoke has been working more than twenty-five years. He didn’t come from a family

of craftsmen but learned instead from his neighbours. He grew up in a community

of stone carvers and started learning the craft in his early teens. Soon it became his

profession.

I watched Ashoke as he worked on the face of a small statue. It was nearing completion.

Beside him a fine line drawing marked out in a grid defined the proportions

of the deity, the centre line passing through the middle of the lotus base and another

line following the angle of the head. Every detail had been carved into the stone,

smooth and refined, an exact copy of the work on paper. Everything was complete

except the face – a strange caricature of flat planes defining the eyes, nose and

mouth. His hammer and chisel delicately worked around the head, a bit off here,

and a bit off there. Millimetre by millimetre the stone changed shape. It would be

hours of the artist sitting bent over in deep concentration before it was finished.

Somewhere in his mind Ashoke held a picture, a three dimensional image of this

face, of the meaning, the voice of this god and the story from the scriptures, working

his tools into the stone to reveal what was in his mind.

Ashoke later explained that the hardest part of the work is the face and on these

small sculptures it can take more than a day to carve. The face carries the emotion,

Left: a craftsman uses a power grinder to smooth the carved face.

Top: A worker uses a power tool to attach a hand to the arm of a Buddha.

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Prayer beads and antique thangka, Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu.


Coloured threads on a Peepal tree - the Tree of Life.


SILK

THANGKA

रेसमको थान ्का


SILK THANGKA

On the 8th of December 2014, Anmol, Shailaja and I met Sunny at the

entrance to Boudhanath Stupa for a trip up into the hills toward Pullahari

Monastery. I had come from Lazimpat by bicycle: a journey that took me

past the Finnish Embassy and down the hill across the stream at Bhatkekopul-Kalopul

Road, through a maze of winding streets.

Bicycling around Kathmandu is exhilarating, partly because of the city landscape

and partly because it is an extreme sport of sorts. Traffic is unpredictable and the

roads can resemble rivers during the monsoon. They can have gaping holes that

weren’t there yesterday or suddenly become a stage with hundreds of participants

taking part in a celebration making passage nearly impossible.

My bicycle was in need of better brakes and it wasn’t until I turned a corner down

a narrow lane and collided head on with a taxi that I decided it was now time to

do something about them. Neither the taxi nor I sustained any damage beyond my

acute embarrassment and the driver thought it somehow amusing. I picked myself

up smiling into the gathering crowd, brushed the dust from my jeans, and rode off

to my meeting.

Sunny had arranged to take us to see Nurpu Lama Sherpa, a textile craftsman creating

thangkas sewn from silk. I parked the bike and locked it to an iron railing to

retrieve after the shoot. The main gate of the Stupa is always busy with taxis, tourists,

and Nepalis offering to guide, as well as streams of local inhabitants. Boudha is

packed with people whatever the time of day and the dust kicked up from the traffic

is thick enough to see the particulate glistening in the bright sunlight like snowflakes

in a blizzard. Despite the pollution in Kathmandu, there is something compelling

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Right: Before a sewn thangka can be made, full size drawings are traced and

the shapes transferred to silk for stitching.


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