Indian Sculpture - What is the lost Wax Process?
Many Indian statues like the Verdigris Peacock Oil Lamp above are made by the lost wax process. Lost wax casting is a process for making metal statues in which a wax sculpture of an image is covered in clay which is then baked. As the clay is heated the wax melts away leaving a negative image of the sculpture inside the hardened clay.
Molten metal is then poured into the mould. When the metal has cooled the clay casing is broken away to leave the metal image. That's the basic process but there are variations.
This sculpture of a woman grinding seeds or corn is another fine example of an everyday scene from life in an Indian village. She uses a long pole to grind the corn on a stone platform. It's an affectionate composition, her child is sitting beside her with a hand on her shoulder.
One variation is that the clay is left to harden without being heated. The wax melts and runs out when molten metal is poured into the mould. Another variation involves a rough clay image being made which is then covered with wax. The external surface of the wax is then finely carved to create the image you want. When the wax melts away the clay core is left inside the metal casting.
In India, metal objects play an important part in everyday life, both as domestic objects but also in religious life.
This spectacular Tantric sculpture of a Buddhist Protector Deity with his consort is a superb example of a complex statue made by this technique.
You see many statues of popular Hindu gods like Ganesh and Krishna and also sculptural folk items such as animals, musicians and dancers. In Nepal and Tibet statues of the Buddha are made by the same process. You'll find the lost wax technique used in many parts of the world, here we have some examples from India.
Lost wax Dokra casting in India goes back 4000 year to the Harappan culture of the Indus valley. One of the earliest known Indian lost wax statues is the figure below, the Dancing Girl of Mohenjo Daro, which dates from 2500 B.C. The figure below her is a contemporary brass statue of a warrior chief.
In West Bengal the Dhokra Damar tribes are the traditional metal smiths, their name Dokra gave rise to the name for this technique. There are related Dokra tribes in other parts of India especially Madhya Pradesh and Kerala. Traditional texts about metalworking explain about the composition of alloys used to cast both sacred icons.
An alloy of five metals called Panchaloha (copper, gold, silver, lead, and zinc) is widely used to cast icons and idols for worship because of its auspicious nature. Similar alloys are used in Tibet with an entirely different technique to make the famous Tibetan healing, or singing, bowls. In Nepal we heard of metal smiths in Mustang who also incorporate mercury in their special alloy for healing bowls.