Traditionally, on the second day of the Gaijatra festival in Nepal, mataya – literally the ‘festival of lights’ – is celebrated in Lalitpur. On this day devotees go around the city worshipping the images of the Buddha and the stupas, and among the offerings made are wax-flowers, symbolic of the leaves of the bodh tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. A number of wax flowers are attached to bamboo sticks and are then stuck into pulpy fruit. The fruit is pierced with a big wooden handle to make it easy to carry around in the mataya procession.
However, wax flowers are now a rare sight even at the mataya festival. The making of wax flowers was a specialised task entrusted to the thakarmis (metal casters) of Lalitpur. At the mataya procession, increasingly, one sees lit wax candles on silver stands being carried around.
Wax in Nepal is collected by the hill dwellers as an adjunct to the wild honey that they risk life and limb to collect. The honey collectors tap the hives of the wild bees that make their honeycombs on steep precipices and tall trees – they tie strong ropes around themselves as they venture out on the precipices to cut away the hives.
Wax makers wrap the hives in filter-cloth and press out the honey. In this way, they collect the honey as well as the residue wax. The wax is melted in pots and shaped into a ball and taken to the market for sale. The other form of wax used is vegetable wax.
WAX FLOWERS: PROCESS & TECHNIQUE
To craft the wax flowers the thakarmis first carve out floral designs on raw potatoes with a sharp knife. The carved potatoes serve as the mould. The mould is pierced with a thin bamboo stick, which serves as the handle.
Next, the wax is melted either in a metal vessel or in a clay fire pot (makal) over a charcoal fire. When the wax melts into a clear liquid at a specific consistency the mould is dipped into the molten wax and quickly taken out and immersed into cold water. A thin layer of wax is now formed on the mould in the shape of a flower petal of leaf. This wax is removed gently. The artisan takes a thin stick of bamboo, touches one end of it to a sticky, glue-like substances called khoto, and then fixes the wax-flower to the sticky end – the wax-flower thus remains attached to the bamboo stick. Bees wax in its natural ivory colour has a luminosity and lustre that is retained even when colours or dyes are added to the molten wax to make coloured wax flowers.
WAX CANDLES: PROCESS & TECHNIQUE
To make candles two halves of a bamboo are joined together and held in position with tightly tied threads. The bottom of this bamboo mould is closed with a tin plate, to the centre of which is attached a thread which forms the wick. The thread is stretched in a straight position.
The bees wax is melted in metal vessel. The molten wax is then poured into the moulds and allowed to cool. When the wax solidifies, the two halves of the bamboo mould are opened and the candles removed.