"I was absolutely astounded when I got the contract," says Dharma Raj Shakya, recalling the day he bagged the job to create the two stone lions that guard the entrance to Basantapur. Says the 27-year-old sculptor from Patan; "There were so many senior and more experienced competitors. Just to know that a youngster like me could be trusted was enough to make me enthusiastic about the whole project."
Finding the rocks of the right size was the most difficult part since he wanted to carve each lion out of a single piece. It took a whole month searching the Hattiban forest before he came across a suitable one. Finding another seemed nearly impossible. Two months later, luck seemed to have turned when he stumbled upon it. To his disappointment it turned out to be cracked. But just then, a huge stone came rolling down from the top of the hill. Even more surprising was the fact that when he measured it, the stone turned out to be just the size he wanted. "I take it as a blessing from God," says Dharma.
Born into a family of traditional stone sculptors from Sundhara, Dharma initially had no intention of following his ancestral profession. His interest in painting led him to study fine arts. "In painting, the work is not so messy as that in stone carving and people respect you too. That\'s why I wanted to get into painting," said Dharma. But his family\'s poor financial situation led him back to stone carving.
Family finances is the least of his problems now, and it is not only because of the Rs 410,000 he received for his stone lions. The recognition and contracts that followed have been rewarding. All the stone exhibits on display in the Nepali pavilion at Expo2000 in Hanover are Dharma\'s creations. Besides, he says, "There arc a lot of hotels interested in having sculptures made for them. The situation is good for us now."
Dharma has more than three thousand sculptures to his name and has won many awards. But the one he covets most is the one he received at the National Art Exhibition in 1996. "That was the first time a stone sculpture got the first prize in the history of the exhibition organised by National Association of Fine Arts. I treasure that sculpture of Pragyaparamita a lot. There were quite a number of lucrative offers for that piece. A foreigner even offered two and a half lakhs for it. But it is so close to my heart that I could not sell it."
While working on any sculpture, Dharma is very particular about following the shastras. "It is believed that if any sculptor does not follow the shastras, either his eyes or his hands will be affected. But seeing the way modern art is flourishing today, it seems the Almighty seems to have lost His power," he says.
Because of his deep interest in cultural history and mythology, Dharma is working towards an MA in cultural studies from Tribhuvan University. He also contributes to various journals on art and culture. Besides that, he is involved with the Handicraft Association of Nepal as well.
But the young artist is most happy when he is with his sculptures. "They inspire me to go on, they inspire me to do better. When I see people worship the idols I have made with so much of faith, I really feel satisfied."