Laksha is a traditional handicraft. Known as the ‘Laksha Industry’ or ‘Silver Industry,’ this industry existed in Europe and Asia. But this beautiful industry has survived only in a handful of countries such as Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Maldives, and China. Products of the laksha industry in Sri Lanka have gained a lot of attraction worldwide in modern times.
History of the Laksha industry in Sri Lanka
What is laksha industry? Laksha is a natural painting that never rots, fades, or fades. In the past, these handicrafts, which are beautifully colored using various natural colors, were operated as a traditional industry. The word ‘Laksha’ is of Sanskrit origin and means one hundred thousand.
Among the ranks of artisans who came with Srimaha Bodhi, there were families of laksha artisans. They are the ancestors of Sri Lanka’s laksha craftspeople. There is evidence that the laksa industry was more popular during the Kandy period, and these artisans were known as “Evadus.” They engaged in the royal industrial work called Kottal Badda. They had a particular area set aside for them, called the “Hangidi Domain,” and the artisans were called “Hangidians.” These artisans were very skilled in painting and design.
The name “Evadu” was given to the Laksha artisans because they dominated the production of arrows in the early stages of collective organization in the Asian feudal production system. Defense equipment, including arrows and guard weapons of the ruling class and luxury consumer products of the upper social classes, were painted with lakshas by the Evadus.
Laksha and Lack
The English word for laksa is lacquer. The term lac is where the name lacquer comes from. Lac is the insect found in Asian countries that secretes the secretion used for laksa. The insect deposits its secretion on plants. The Old French word lacre means to wax. Portuguese, Arabic, Telugu, or Persian equivalents of lacre all refer to lacquer coating. Thus, the lac insect derives its name from words with similar pronunciations in different linguistic usages to refer to wax.
The word Laksha, used in the Sinhala language instead of lacquer, is derived differently. Laksha is a Sanskrit word meaning hundred thousand or lakhs. The name Lak or Laksha may have been used to refer to those insects due to the large population of Laksha insects. Thus, there is speculation that the English word lacquer is created from the sound and meaning of the word laksha.
Laksha painting on wood
Laksha is painted on wooden items. Not all wood products are painted with laksha. Lakhs are used to make the work of,
- Flower pots (Malpochchi)
- Guard Arms
- Table Legs
- Renda Biralu
- Abarana Manjusa
- Building Biralu
- Window Poles
- Chair Legs
- Awan Mitaval
- Bola Kudu
- Puskolapot Kamba
- Viewing Pots
Similarly, not all wood can be polished. Wood types like,
are used to do Laksha paintings. The lacquer industry used to take the majority of the raw wood. Now artisans mainly use Attonia, Gansoori, and Mahogany for lacquer work.
How do artisans create laksha? Crude silver or silver production
The essential ingredients used for laksha products are laksha or lakada. In the past, artisans made laksha raw materials from a resin-like substance secreted by an insect of the coccid genus belonging to the chemitera tribe on plants. Laksha insects multiply rapidly in the association of corn, masan, capepetia, pihimbia, mora, kobbe.
Laksha comes from two different kinds of insects in Sri Lanka. The type of laksha called Capepetia or cone is produced from trees like Capepetia, cone, betel nut, etc. The Talakiria plant also yields the alternative variety of laksha known as Talakiria.
Growth of Laksha
Laksha cultivation is to breed the laksha insect to a suitable tree and make it produce lakada. Laksha ripens well in September and October in the Tat area, but in some areas, Laksha ripens in other months. While collecting laksha, they only select the properly grown laksha branches because the laksha produced from unripened laksha takes a complex nature. Because it is also unsuitable for coating.
By cutting the branches with leaves and leaving them on the mother plant for a few days, the insects in the cut plant parts will move to the uncut branches, and these branches are dried slightly and collected by scraping the leaves.
Purification of Laksha
Purification of crude laksa by hand is called ‘lakada pereema.’ After washing the crude laksha from the Kota Pola, it is dried and then used for filtering the laksha. For that, copper penduwa, pendu string, copper sticks, laksha trunk, iron blade or yatu blade, leaf and fire pit are essential tools. They perform a filtered silver infusion. Laksha is heated and drawn. The astringent nature of the lakshas is suppressed, and the golden color emerges.
Carving and silversmithing
Kalibilicchi is the preparation of pieces of leather that have been crushed and seasoned with a mixture of dyes using tools such as a stone cup, stone hand, crushing wood, a seven-pound knife, silver sticks, a laksha stem, and a firecracker. In the past, to soften and polish the leather as much as needed, artisans crushed the leather with shelled castor beans, but nowadays, the country resin is mixed for it.
Laksha artisans prepare the traditional colors used for Laksha through Sadhilingam, Stone Hirial, Gold Hirial, Poonil, and natural materials like Blue Avariya, Gokatu, Araliya, Olindha. In the past, the laksa business used red, yellow, and black as its primary hues, but colors like blue, green, and white have also come into use later. Currently, other colors like purple, lead, copper, and gold are used using machine-made titanium and Bayer dyes.
Methods of varnishing laksha
There are two main methods of varnishing wood products.
Niyapothu Wada (Nail work)
Pattal Wada (layer work)
Niyapothu Wada or nail work
Nail work is the practice of designing laksha with the help of the thumb nail without using a pattal. Hand silvering and polishing are ‘Mewara Wada.’ The products polished by traditional work have been recognized at home and abroad since ancient times. Among those items,
- bundles of sunflowers
- bundles of flags
- bundles of curtains
- kamba bastam (three feet)
- bundles of mura auda
- bundles of watapat
- bundles of canopies
- bundles of haramiti (four feet)
- bundles of hendu
were the main ones. The vine book “adara kondu (straight lines), bindu and gal (diamond-shaped pieces), leaf vine (twisting branches or vine pattern), rope knots, pathu (long even Foot triangles), bo leaves, nets, and whirlwinds, among others, are used as traditional local motifs in elaborate laksha products or nail work.
Pattal wada or layer work
Layering is another tradition among the methods of applying laksha patterns to objects. The artisans of Hurikadu in Dumbara district and Angulmandu in Matara district are famous for the old Pattal method. Curved products are made by the Pattal method. Two artisans worked to run the old pattal system. Pulling the rope and spinning the product is done by one craftsman, while holding the needle is the duty of the other craftsman. Only single color and streaking happened by layers.
The Pattal system allows for creating traditional, contemporary, and utility items. Pattal works have a cultural value for traditional products. Pattal works produce many conventional products.
- Heppu (Manjusa)
- Flower Pots
are among them.
Areas popular for laksha industry in Sri Lanka
The sites most famous for this industry are,
- Matale – Hapuvida
- Tangalle – Agulmaduwa
- Mahanuwara – Hoorikaduwa
- Balangoda – Pallekanda
The Laksha industry is an industry that is about 400 years old. The Laksha industry produces a variety of designs, and artisans can create all the appliances and products required for the home with the Laksha industry. Laksha artisans perform a lot of detailed work to unveil their creations. It is a complex process where these techniques are intertwined.
Artisans show great respect and traditional devotion to this traditional craft method for the production of high-quality products since the effort of artisans bringing these techniques to the present day amid various difficulties makes the laksha industry in Sri Lanka popular among tourists.