Nepalese artist brings sacred paintings to life

Nepal

Paubha remains a common method of painting but the austere religious observances of its artists have fallen into disuse

Artist Paubha Ujay Bajracharya works on his interpretation of Green Tara, a goddess of compassion worshiped by Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal, at Lalitpur on the outskirts of Kathmandu. (Photo: AFP)

With a shaved head and an empty stomach, artist Ujay Bajracharya dips his paintbrush to line the eyes of the deity Tara as a soothing Buddhist hymn resounds in the background.

The 40-year-old is applying the final blows to his paubha painting, a devotional art form known for its painstaking detail, intense color, and strict purification rituals traditionally required of its practitioners.

It took Bajracharya three months to complete her rendition of Green Tara, a goddess of compassion revered by Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal.


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Before the work began, he shaved his hair and cut his nails, while a Buddhist priest blessed his canvas and chose a sufficiently auspicious day for the artist to begin his work.

Bajracharya rose early each morning and did not eat until the end of his working day, adopting a strict vegetarian diet which also excluded garlic, tomatoes and onion when breaking his fast.

“My body was light and I felt more focused and motivated to paint,” he told AFP. “Changing my lifestyle was a bit difficult at first, but I had the support of my family and friends, which helped me stay disciplined.”

“This is part of what makes paubha art unique and valuable. The more people learn about it, the more demand there will be for Nepalese artists”

Paubha remains a common painting method in Nepal, but the austere religious observances once followed by its artists have fallen into disuse.

Bajracharya’s embrace of these rituals began last year when he approached a museum in the capital Kathmandu to paint another Buddhist deity while adhering to forgotten traditions.

Rajan Shakya, founder of the Nepal Art Museum, said they immediately embraced the idea of ​​reviving the practice.

“That’s part of what makes paubha art unique and valuable. The more people learn about it, the more demand there will be for Nepali artists. And then we know our art will survive, our culture will survive,” Shakya said. .

Bajracharya pledged to observe these rules for future paintings, beginning with his exacting work on the Green Tara, which he designed for worship in a private prayer room at his home.

“I felt that we should preserve this method and the next generation should also be aware – people should know the spiritual aspect of these paintings,” he said.

Paubha artwork uses cotton or silk canvas, and colors were traditionally made by grinding minerals and plants into a fine powder. Some works even used pure gold and silver.

The oldest surviving paubha painting dates from the 13th century, but scholars believe the tradition is much older, with earlier examples likely extinct due to the fragile materials used.

“Paubha’s paintings have now become a business, but their purpose is not commercial – they are in fact objects of respect and worship”

Its artists are believed to have inspired trends in thank youa similar type of devotional painting in neighboring Tibet which has been recognized in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

Priest Dipak Bajracharya – a member of the Ujay caste but unrelated to the painter – said that in the past paubha artists would remain “pure” to ensure the sanctity of the images they produced. “The process itself is considered a form of meditation,” he said.

While the traditional religious value remains, paubha paintings are now commonly seen as decorative hangings in museums or the homes of collectors.

A growing international appreciation for the craft has proven lucrative for artists, with interested buyers in China, Japan and Western countries.

“The Paubha paintings have now become a business, but their purpose is not commercial – they are in fact objects of respect and worship,” the priest said.

Dipak returned to Ujay once the latter’s hair had grown back for a final religious ceremony, culminating in a ritual to “breathe life” into the finished painting.

The ceremonial practice invites the Green Tara to reside in the work as a receptacle of worship.

“It’s not just art, the faith of Buddhists and Hindus is tied to it,” Ujay Bajracharya said. “If we don’t preserve this art form, the faith will also slowly fade.”

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