Stories in stone
When we think of stone, we think of something hard, cold and unmoving. However, when Lok Raj Bajracharya looks at stones, he sees sensuous goddesses, enigmatic gods, flowing water fountains and mythical animals that could be brought to life.
Bajracharya isn’t just a stone carver who cuts stones into shapes; he tries to give his stone carvings a spirit of their own.
“After I finish a carving, it’s just a statue for show that has no spiritual connection,” says Bajracharya. “For a statue to become a murti, it must be participated in a temple’s offering ritual.”
During the Stone Age, humans used stones to make blades and spears. But it was the artistic eyes of stone carvers like Bajracharya who saw the beautiful things that could be made from the material.
The 59-year-old estimates over 290 carvings to his credit. As a fifth generation stone carver, he wants to continue his family’s reputation as renowned stone carvers. Kings and prime ministers have inaugurated his family’s works throughout the ages.
Bajracharya worked with his father at the Mirgasthali temple in Pashupathinath for 17 years and brought it to its present-day beauty. Many of his skills came from this long training and working experience.
“We need skills first and then chisels, hammer and compass,” says Bajracharya. He is an adamant teacher of this philosophy — this is why many of his sculptures are of Ganesh, who is considered a good teacher.
Like many crafts of this kind, you can’t be a carver without being an artist also. Drawing out the artwork in intricate details with his hands gives Bajracharya immense satisfaction. “At the time I was learning (stone) carving, I was also learning drawing skills,” he recalls.
The hard part comes next. How do you turn something as lifelessly cold and hard as stone and give it the warm expressions of a living being?
“When you learn and gain experience, it gets easier,” answers Bajracharya.
Capturing the impression becomes harder when it’s a salik. “It’s difficult, but I use photographs and interview close relatives to capture that persons essence when they were alive,” he says.
First, the stones are cut into shapes and the rough surfaces polished into smoothness. Bajracharya finds his favourite types of stones — soft stones and hard black stones — in Hattiban, Pharping and Tha-nkot. Once the stones are curved, the markings show up pearl white against the grey and black background. With stone carvings, simple mistakes are polished away. The only time Bajracharya stops working is when the piece breaks into two, otherwise he is a workaholic.
“Finishing a statue doesn’t satisfy me, so I keep looking for mistakes to work on,”
Bajracharya says he will keep carving until he can do no more. He doesn’t have to worry about continuing the family profession himself as two of his elder sons are already established in the craft.
Bajracharya’s works can be seen in various places like Dwarika’s Hotel, a 10-feet statue of Buddha in Shigha Bihar and one of his favourite works of Laxmi Narayan in Sundari Chowk.