As one of the oldest religions in the world, Hinduism carries a broad set of traditions, rituals and worship. Hinduism in the real sense is a way of righteous living and professes the unity of worship and the concept of a formless divine. But these are abstract concepts for many and the best way to help relate is through images. Over time, this was how the concept of various ‘Gods’ and ‘idol worship’ was developed, giving the free choice of worship ultimately to the individual. In this regard, Panchaloha idols play a key role in this regard.
Silpa Shastra is an ancient Hindu text dealing with arts and crafts and contains various design rules and standards. All idols whether stone or of metal have to be sculpted and manufactured according to these rules and prescribed rituals have to be followed both during manufacture and installation in order to obtain the correct benefits. Panchaloha idols are traditional idols of Gods fashioned from an alloy of 5 metals (silver, gold, copper, zinc and iron). The percentages in which these metals are used in the alloy varies between different regions in India.
The idol manufacturing process involves 2 steps. The first is the construction of the mould and the second is the actual creation of the idol. Initially, an image of the deity is created in wax with all the details. This wax is prepared by mixing paraffin wax, resin from the tree Damara Orientalis, and ground nut oil. Since wax produced by this method is quite hard, softer bee’s wax of high purity is mixed to make it easier to bring to life finer details.
To create a mould, the wax model is covered in layers of fresh clay and soil and then allowed to dry. Once the clay dries, it is heated to melt the wax and create a hollow mould. The melted Panchaloha metal alloy is then poured slowly into this mould to allow air bubbles to escape. This is then allowed to cool and solidify into the idol or deity. The cooling period varied between a few hours to a few days depending on the size of the statue and is judged based on experience. Finally, the craftsmen break the clay mold starting from the head of the statue to get the preliminary image. This image is then worked on to produce the final product.
The process has remained the same since the time of ancient dynasties like the Chera and the Chola and it is heartening to note that the art continues to thrive in various corners of India even today.