The first Prakasha or section of the Indian
text Shilpaprakasha, a treatise on architecture and sculpting talks about a
popular element in Indian temple art- beauteous young women, in different
postures and forms adorning the walls and other parts of the sanctum with their
grace. These enchanting maidens are called “Alasya Kanya” or idle women, a name
derived from their laid-back attitude and bodily posture in which their allure
is best displayed by the sculptor. According to the Shilpaprakasha- “As a Vaasa
(home) and Kreeda (playfulness) are incomplete without the presence of a young
woman, so is art without the imagery of the feminine, fruitless and devoid of
pleasure.” The numbers of Alasya Kanya are 16 or 32 or even more, but the
essence of these stunning female icons is one- the artistic exaltation of
fertility and auspiciousness possessed by women.
One of the
most recurring motifs from the Alasya Kanya retinue is the lady with a mirror,
also known as Darpana, who holds a darpana or mirror. This large wooden statue of depicts a young maiden engrossed in gazing at her beauty, which
can mesmerize humans, gods, Yakshas, and Gandharvas (celestial beings). This particular Darpana Sundari (beauty with
mirror) is inspired by the rich sculptures of Madanikas (celestial maidens)
carved in the Channakeshava Temple, at Belur- the home of Hoysala art and
ornamentation, bodily proportions, and features relate this wooden Darpana with
her sisters in the courtyard of the Hoysala temple, who are some of the
best-preserved examples of the delineation of feminine beauty in India. The
lady with the mirror or the mirror lady we see here is standing leisurely atop
a platform decorated with lotus petal marks and a floral crest in the middle.
She has a moon-white skin tone with hints of red henna and forehead marks and
is carved in a rounded manner that captures her allures to the fullest. Her
curled hair is in a bun which is secured at the back with a floral Shirachakra
and earrings, necklace, and other ornate ornaments cling to her swinging form.
The Mekhala or bejeweled girdle of this wooden lady with mirror has multiple
gemmed strings, creating a luxurious skirt for the heavenly maiden.
woodwork has been carved with attentive details to trace an animated Darpana
with finishing that infuses her with an antiquated quality. Her face appeals to
the gaze with two large almond eyes, a sharp nose, and lips that are about to
break into a smile. She elegantly holds a mirror in her hand while playfully
touching an extension of her ornament.
How to care for Wood Statues?
Wood is extensively used in sculpting especially in countries like China, Germany, and Japan. One feature that makes the wood extremely suitable for making statues and sculptures is that it is light and can take very fine detail. It is easier for artists to work with wood than with other materials such as metal or stone. Both hardwoods, as well as softwood, are used for making sculptures. Wood is mainly used for indoor sculptures because it is not as durable as stone. Changes in weather cause wooden sculptures to split or be attacked by insects or fungus. The principal woods for making sculptures and statues are cedar, pine, walnut, oak, and mahogany. The most common technique that sculptors use to make sculptures out of wood is carving with a chisel and a mallet. Since wooden statues are prone to damage, fire, and rot, they require proper care and maintenance.
It is extremely important to preserve and protect wooden sculptures with proper care. A little carelessness and negligence can lead to their decay, resulting in losing all their beauty and strength. Therefore, a regular clean-up of the sculptures is a must to prolong their age and to maintain their shine and luster.
Wood has been a preferred material for sculptures and statues
since ancient times. It is easy to work with than most metals and
stones and therefore requires less effort to shape it into any
desired shape or form. The texture of the wood gives an element of
realism to the sculpture. The selection of an appropriate wood
type is necessary for carving. Woods that are too resinous or
coniferous are not considered good for carving as their fiber is
very soft and thus lacks strength. On the other hand, wood such as
Mahogany, Oakwood, Walnut wood, Weet cherry wood, etc., are
preferred by sculptors because their fiber is harder.
A wood sculptor uses various tools such as a pointed chisel in one
hand and a mallet in another to bring the wood to the desired
measurement and to make intricate details on it. A carving knife
is used to cut and smooth the wood. Other tools such as the gouge,
V-tool, and coping saw also serve as important tools in wood
carving. Although the wood carving technique is not as complex and
tough as stone carving or metal sculpting, nonetheless, a wood
carver requires a high level of skills and expertise to create a
The process of wood carving begins with selecting a chunk of wood
that is required according to the type and shape of the statue to
be created by the sculptor. Both hardwoods and softwoods are used
for making artistic pieces, however, hardwoods are preferred more
than softer woods because of their durability and longevity. But
if heavy detailing is to be done on the statue, wood with fine
grain would be needed as it would be difficult to work with
Once the wood type is selected, the wood carver begins the
general shaping process using gouges of various sizes. A gouge
is a tool having a curved cutting edge which is useful in
removing large unwanted portions of wood easily without
splitting the wood. The sculptor always carves the wood across
the grain of the wood and not against it.
When a refined shape of the statue is obtained, it is time for
making details on the statue using different tools. This is
achieved by using tools such as a veiner to make and a V-tool to
create decorative and sharp cuts.
Once finer details have been added, the sculptor is ready to
smoothen the surface and give it a perfect finish. Tools such as
rasps and rifflers are used to get a smooth surface. The finer
polishing is obtained by rubbing the surface with sandpaper. If
a textured surface is required, this step is skipped. Finally,
to protect the statue from excessive dirt accumulation, the
sculptor applies natural oils such as walnut or linseed oil all
over it. This also brings a natural sheen to the statue.
Wood statues are lighter in weight and less expensive than metal
or stone pieces. Because wood is prone to fast decay by fungus and
algae, statues made out of this material are not preferred to be
kept outside. The rich tradition of wood carving in countries such
as Africa, Egypt, India, and Nepal has been followed for many
centuries. Indian craftsmen are specialized in this classic art
and continue to exhibit their extraordinary artistic skills.
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