25-31 July 2014 #717

The Big Buddha

Stéphane Huët

A Nepali craftsmen led a team of fifty to built the world's biggest Padmasambhavan statue in Bhutan

Raj Kumar Shakya is a characteristically humble Nepali artisan, but he has just done his country proud by building the world's largest Buddhist statue in Bhutan.

He is back in Nepal after five years in Lhuntche Dzong, Bhutan where he has been directing a team of 19 Nepalis, 30 Bengalis and eight Bhutanese to construct an 49m and 255 ton statue of the Buddhist guru, Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche.

Padmasambhava attained enlightenment in a cave in Pharping on the outskirts of Kathmandu,and is said to have emerged around the 8th century in Bhutan, where he is referred to as the "second Buddha".

Khenpo Karpo, a Bhutanese lama, assigned this gigantic task to Shakya after meeting other craftworkers in Thailand, Burma and India.

“Khenpo Karpo chose me as project manager when he saw a 2m Bhairav mask I had made,” recalled Shakya. “Although I hadn't worked on something that big before, I knew this would be good for me and for the reputation of Nepali craftwork."

When Shakya (pictured, right) finished the design of the statue in 2005, his Nepali team made an 3m high fibreglass model of the Padmasambhava figure. A Bhutanese engineer spent six months in Kathmandu, planning the metallic structures of the statue that was going to be raised on the Takilia Hill of Lhuntche Dzong.

Through the Druk Odiyana Foundation, Khenpo Karpo raised the Rs 43.4 million from devotees in Singapore, China and Taiwan. The 11.2m monastery on which the statue is located was erected in 2009. Finally, six years after meeting Khempo Karpo in Kathmandu, Shakya and his Nepali team finally arrived in Lhuntche Dzong to start moulding the copper pieces.

Takilia Hill is in a remote area 500km east of Thimphu. Shakya’s team faced frequent electricity shortages, delayed supplies of materials from India, lack of entertainment and sometimes even lack of food. But Shakya retains only the positive aspects of this experience: “After directing this construction, any other task will now seem easy to me. I learnt and experimented with new techniques."

The workers took a well-earned break every year in October, during which the Nepalis returned to Kathmandu to celebrate Dasain and Tihar. The project was finally finished after nearly four years, one year ahead of schedule.

The Padmasambhava of Takilia Hill has been crafted using a repoussé metalworking technique: the same used for the Statue of Liberty in New York.

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