Buddhist Figurines

Sikkim is a state in northeastern India. It borders the Tibet Autonomous Region of China in the north and northeast, Bhutan in the east, Nepal in the west, and West Bengal in the south.
It is the least populous and second smallest among the Indian states.

According to the 2011 census, 57.8% follow Hinduism, making it the state’s majority religion. Buddhism is followed by 27.4% of the population, while Christianity is followed by 9.9%. There are many Hindu temples throughout the state.

Vajrayana Buddhism, which accounts for 27.3 percent of the population, is Sikkim’s second-largest, yet most prominent religion. Prior to Sikkim’s becoming a part of the Indian Union, Vajrayana Buddhism was the state religion under the Chogyal. It is said that Sikkim has over 200 Buddhist monasteries, the oldest dating back to the 1700s.

All the Buddhist monasteries in Sikkim has beautiful brass and bronze metal images of Lord Buddha and other objects of ceremonial use and reverence such as small bowls, plates, and statues.

The uniqueness of metal casting in Sikkim holds to the fact that a prototype model is created which is perfected in features and expression, further hand carved. The popular metal casted objects are Buddhist figurines or more famously known as Ku, usually made in copper using lost wax casting. The production is concentrated in Sikkim’s eastern district, Rumtek by the local artisans.

This Sikkim craft has well defined Mongolian features and motifs. The entire figurine is made in parts and then joined together to form the master model. It is made out of wax or clay. The features and expressions are hand-carved to perfection. The model is then used for making the wax mould which is used for replicating several wax models for casting.

A flexible rubber mould of either rubber or silicon solution captures every detail of the original model. A second wax mould is made of this and coated with cow dung slurry, and layers of sawdust and yellow mud. A small hole is drilled at the top for pouring the metal, either bronze or copper. The mould is then fired in an oven. The wax within the clay melts creating a hollow space for the metal to be poured. The molten metal inside is cooled. The complete metal statue is revealed after breaking the outer mud casing. The finishing of the statue is done by filing and polishing. A swab is used to remove impurities. Finally, it is buffed and painted in gold or silver.

The tools used for the production are hacksaw blade, cutting knife, divider, chisel, hammer, pincers, carving tools and a stove.

Credits : Wikipedia and ‘Handmade in India’

In my last few years of active travelling, I visited many monasteries in Spiti , Bir and Coorg. It’s now on my Wishlist to get to travel soon to Sikkim and witness this beautiful and detailed work of Buddhist figurines.

I’m planning to come back with many more articles on the beautiful handmade stories of India every week now. So, Stay Tuned!