The statue of the Buddha that King Gyanendra unveiled at the Boao Chan Monastery as Nepal's gift to China in May is one of the largest images made from the traditional lost wax method.
This age-old method of making bronze figures of deities is slowly dying out and Nepal and Bangladesh are two of the few countries where it is still practiced. But while the art is thriving in Nepal, Bangladesh is struggling to keep it alive. "Bangladesh is a dominantly Muslim country and images of Hindu and Buddhist deities hardly have a market," says Sabreen Rahman of the American Centre in Dhaka, which has awarded its Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation to Initiative for the Preservation of Dhamrai Metal Casting, a Bangladeshi NGO. As a part of the program, six Bangladeshi artisans are in Nepal learning the Newari lost wax technique in Patan.
"We use beeswax and resin, 90 percent copper and 10 percent zinc, cast our images in clay mixed with cow dung, keep mouldings for reproduction and carve the more intricate designs after the wax has been lost and the clay removed," says Rajan Shakya (pictured, second from left), a Nepali metal craftsman who is participating in the workshop.
"Our way of doing it is very different," says Sukanta Banik, chairman of the NGO, "we use beeswax and paraffin, cast the entire image in wax and do not keep mouldings for reproduction. Also we use 70 percent copper and 30 percent brass, which means the metal is not so easy to work with. Our designs are dominantly Pala and very different from those made here."
The images made from the Newari lost wax technique are known to have better finishing than the Bangladeshi images and have found a bigger market. The main market for our metal craft products now is China but Bhutan and Taiwan, which at one time dominated the market, follow close behind.
"In the week that we've been here, we have shared a lot of ideas. But our tools, materials and ways of working are different even though the process is very similar," says Banik, "When we return home, we will definitely keep what we have learnt in mind and see how we can improve our work. Like Nepal, we hope to create some sort of a market for our art."