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Home Articles Arts and Crafts Wood Carving in Nepal - artelino

Wood Carving in Nepal - artelino

Wooden Palace Window.Tourists in Nepal admire old temples, pagodas and palaces in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. All these old monuments are constructed with bricks and wood. Well, not just wood, but carved wood. Wood carving in Nepal has been one of the highest developed forms of craftsmanship in the world.

But few are aware that this old craft is still alive in the Kathmandu valley, mainly in Patan. This article reports about the old art of wood carving in Nepal and gives some practical tips for buying or commissioning unique hand-carved items in Nepal.

Wood Carving and the Architecture of Nepal

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The Newaris have been masters in constructing houses, temples, shrines and palaces with wood. It was only natural that they began to refine the wooden, architectural elements with intricate carvings. The oldest carvings known are from the twelfth century.

Just like the casting of metal figures, woodcarving has been a domain of the Newari people in Nepal. They are concentrated in Patan. And this is where you could and still can find a concentration of small workshops. I also remember a larger cooperative in Bhaktapur in the early 1980s. It was set up as a development project by the Federal Republic of Germany. They had nice things there. You could watch how people were sawing and carving in the open air. But I do not know if this cooperative is still running or not.

Historical Woodcarvings in the Kathmandu Valley

Wooden Temple Structure.The best historical woodcarvings can be found in the centers of Kathmandu with the Rana palace, the Kumari house and in the center of Patan and finally in Bhaktapur with the famous Peacock Window. As a tourist you can hardly miss these. The central squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur are all called Dhurbar Square.

Shresta Shah Dwarika

An article about woodcarving in Nepal should not be written without mentioning an exceptional man and an exceptional life achievement. Mr. Shresta Shah Dwarika noticed one day in the 1950s how people tore down old houses and used the old carved pillars, doors and windows as fire wood. He began to collect these old woodcarvings and stored them in his garden. Later he began constructing a small hotel using these old carved wooden elements. Today the hotel has grown to a unique ensemble in Kathamndu, a living museum and first-class hotel. In 2008 I was so lucky to spend 10 days in this extraordinary place and learned the story of Dwarika's.

Buying Wood Carvings in Nepal

You can buy great and inexpensive wood carvings in Nepal, from small items like a Buddha statue that you can take home in your baggage up to all kind of furniture that will have to be shipped. The value is in the carving. The Newari artisans really do a unique job. If you acquire a major piece you can be sure to possess something unique.

The price you pay in Nepal is very cheap - really ridiculous due to extremely low wages compared to what you get. But transport and import taxes applying for your country might double the price for you. And if you order a more complicated or larger piece of furniture I would also take into consideration that you might need a skillful carpenter near your residence who will take care of the final assembling or some additional gluing, reinforcement or whatever.

Patan Industrial Estate

Carved Window

If you travel to Nepal, a good place where to find quite a few shops and workshops is the so-called Patan (Lalitpur) Industrial Estate. It is a kind of "business park", a crummy area by European or North American standards. But the area is a treasure house to hunt for unique wooden carvings. Plan enough time for a visit, at least half a day. And don't start too late because most shops close around 6 PM.

How to Find Patan Industrial Estate

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Different Kinds of Wood

Newari use different kinds of wood for the carvings. And if you should commission a piece of furniture or art, you may be asked which wood you prefer. The difference is in the strength of the timber, the colors and the robustness. For furniture use a hard and strong wood. Actually the chairs that I had bought circa 30 years ago have not shown any serious cracks. But the peacock windows did within the first years. The stronger the wood the more difficult it is to carve. And it will cost you therefore a bit more. Good Newari carvers have a good knowledge of the different timbers. Trust their expertise.

My Own Experience with Nepalese Woodcarving

Wooden Table - foldable.

I had bought some smaller furniture - two small folding tables and peacock windows in Patan in 1980. Transport worked well, but the payment by bank transfer from Germany to Nepal was a bit adventurous in those days. But in the end it all worked out nicely.

Later I commissioned a chest, 6 chairs and a table at a work shop in Patan. It took roughly one year before the goods were finished. The elements of the chairs and the table were beautifully carved. But they were not usable as chairs after I had unpacked them. I needed a German carpenter to reinforce them and add leather bolsters to them. This did cost as much as what I had paid to the Nepalese artisans. But in the end I had something unique that you cannot get anywhere in Europe, not even for a lot of money.

The chairs have been in use for nearly 30 years and nothing has broken. Just the leather bolster in the meantime has fallen victim to the cats. But this cannot be blamed to the Newari carvers.Cry

Newari Woodcarving in the Internet

It is tough to find any sites in the internet that offer Nepal woodcarving. After long search I have found a few at least. Please take a look at out link collection section and check the category for Himalayan woodcarvings. One site even offers new Tibetan furniture. Among all the antique galleries for expensive, old (and often fakes) Tibetan furniture, a novelty.

Dieter Wanczura, June 2010

Peacock Window.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 November 2010 18:23  

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