The copper Buddha figurines were made depicting the physical form of the Buddha with various healing powers, to meditate in front of. The large-scale Buddhas were usually kept in monasteries, whereas the smaller sized ones were for the home. The really small Buddhas made out of sheet metal were very light and easily portable, as was necessary for the Tibetan nomadic way of life.
The copper Buddha figurines have different meanings hidden behind different hand gestures, stemming from the Buddhist iconographic texts and rituals. Every hand posture of the Buddha has a different purpose: health, wealth, medicine, honesty etc. They are used like Thangkas to meditate for achievement. They have varied sizes and are made in different embellishes as per the iconographies as well.
The art of making these Buddha figurines is aimed towards the preservation of Tibetan crafts, the way they have been, since the 7th century BC without any changes, whatsoever. The craft ever since, has been followed with not as much as a hair moved here and there and that is what they want to stick to. There are two reasons why the craft has been preserved the way it actually is, so far-
One is this that Tibetan crafts had to be preserved completely to preserve The Tibetan identity, which has been being lost to the Chinese.
Two that these Buddhas are made for monasteries and household religious purposes, and hence any changes would change the orientation of the following of religious texts.
Buddhism conveys a sense of the sacred and a sense of social and cultural cohesion, without reliance on the concept of a creator God.
The four noble truths, which are followed in Buddhism:
1. The truth of suffering
2. The truth of the origin of suffering.
3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
4. The truth of the path
The Buddha figurines have a particular finishing done. The face of the Buddha, till the neck is painted with goldand then detailing is done with acrylic paints by the Thangka painters and involves a lot of intricacy. The torso of the Buddha, when being beaten out of copper sheets or casted, has the proper outline of the cloth draped over his chest and shoulder, showing distinctive pleats. In spite of this detail, almost all the buyers drape cloth over the figurine to cover the body of the Buddha in cloth. This probably happens because the face of the Buddha is a different colour, due to application of gold and the entire body of the Buddha including the drapery detail, is of the same colour and texture. Hence, to make it simpler for the buyers, the master said that they have been contemplating to come to a solution, which will be a tad bit different than what has been being done to date. There are a few options of solution like, painting the entire face and body of the Buddha with gold except the drapery detail or highlight the folds of the drapery with paint or maybe another metal polishing technique. They are still contemplating because the first solution would take the price up of the figurine to quite a bit due to the use of gold. The second option, though will be easier, will bring a stark difference in the way the Buddhas have been made for so long.
Myths & Legends
Iconographies: The iconographic myths behind the hand gestures of the Buddha are the prime aspect behind which the Buddha figurines are made in Tibet.
~Gesture of Turning the Wheel of Dharma: The thumb and index finger of the right hand stand for wisdom and method combined. The other three raised fingers symbolize the teaching of the Buddhist doctrine, which leads sentient beings to the paths of the beings of three capacities. The position of the left hand symbolizes the beings of the three capacities, which follow the combined path of method and wisdom.
~Gesture of Meditation: The nerve channel associated with the mind of enlightenment (Bodhichitta) passes through the thumbs. Thus, joining of the two thumbs in this gesture is of auspicious significance for the future development of the mind of enlightenment.
~Gesture of Bestowal of Supreme Accomplishment: The gesture of the right hand symbolizes bestowal of supreme accomplishment. That of the left hand symbolizes meditation. Together, they stand for the Buddha's power to bestow supreme and general accomplishments on his disciples, while he meditates.
~Gesture of Pressing the Earth: The right hand gestures pressing the earth to bear witness. The position of the left hand symbolizes meditation. Together, they stand for the Buddha's overcoming of hindrances while meditating. This gesture 'of touching the earth' or 'calling the earth to witness', commemorates Gautama Buddha's victory over temptation by the demon Mara.
~Gesture of Turning the Wheel of Dharma while in Meditation: The gesture of the right hand stands for turning the wheel of Dharma, while that of the left hand symbolizes meditation. The two conjoined symbolize teaching the Dharma while in meditation.
Born an Indian prince, the Buddha renounced his royal life to seek release from 'samsara': the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
The Buddha was not considered to be God or a supernatural being, but a man who had found the answer to the deepest dilemmas of human life and had made the answer available to others. The earliest representations of the Buddha are symbols or scenes associated with the Buddha's life, without actually depicting his physical form. Later, his physical form began to be worshipped as a clearer form of expression and meditative push.
When Buddhism came to Tibet, the Tibetans adapted the making of Buddhas into their peripheral of art and native Tibetan crafts.These Buddhas were widely used along with Thangka paintings to meditate in front of. Bon is the ancient religion of Tibet, but has been almost eclipsed by Tibetan Buddhism, a distinctive form of Mahayana and Vajrayana, which was introduced into Tibet from the Sanskrit Buddhist tradition of northern India.
The Tibetan settlement of Dharamshala began in 1959, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet and the Prime Minister of India allowed him and his followers to settle in McLeodGanj (in Upper Dharmshala), a former colonial British summer picnic spot. There they established the "government-in-exile" in 1960. Dharamshala had been connected with Hinduism and Buddhism for a long time, many monasteries having been established there in the past, by Tibetan immigrants in the 19th century.
The copper Buddha figurines are largely of two kinds. The sheet metal figurines are very time consuming, skillfully intricate and have to be made, producing one piece of the figurine at a time. The finishes are endless and the perfection levels are above perfect. They are lightweight and hollow and are embellished beautifully. These form the expensive range because of all these characteristics.
The casted brass Buddha figurines are very less time consuming owing to the mould in which they are made. They are also perfectly finished and embellished but they are solid metal, making them heavy and requiring less skill. This also brings down the prices, almost half as much as the Sheet metal Buddhas.
They are all painted in gold from the forehead to the nape of the neck with much intricacy.
The Buddhas have matted spoked hair, because it symbolizes the unison of body, mind and spirit, and helps the meditator to focus better. It is said that the immunity of the meditator improves and helps to stay calm and healthy.
The sizes of the sheet metal Buddhas vary from 7 inches for home purposes to 27 feet tall, as the one in the monastery. The casted Buddhas however are all between 4-8 inches tall because with the size the weight of the solid metal would also increase and the purpose of the Buddha would get spoilt.
The Buddhas are expensive products, owing to the top quality of everything that goes into them. To be knowledgeable about this fact, can easily save someone from getting fooled in the market, as most places sell their Buddha figurines as made by the Tibetans or finished by them. They do not take market orders from anywhere and hence it is impossible to find truth in what stores claim. Buddha figurines are made almost everywhere these days, but the ones made by these Tibetan artisans at Norbulingka have just one major counterpart- The Brass Buddha figurines which are made by Nepalese settled in northern belt of India, mostly Himachal, Uttaranchal and some parts of the north-east. The raw materials, process, techniques, craftsmanship and finishing differ from the Buddhas at Norbulingka, starkly. These Buddhas are always not proportional and are casted in brass. They are very heavy and are often not finely finished. The facial expressions, the hand gestures of the Buddhas give away the truth of their making and origins. But, tourists often prefer these as souvenirs to Norbulingka, is because these Nepalese Buddhas are very inexpensive as compared to the other. The difference in quality is visible when a figurine of the same size in Norbulingka is exactly five times the price as is in the market.