Laaksha, also known as Lac or Lacquer work, has a deep-rooted history in Sri Lanka, dating back to the time of the introduction of Buddhism to the island. Legend has it that along with the sapling of the sacred ‘Sri Maha Bodhi’ tree, the art of Laaksha was brought to Sri Lanka from India. This trade has endured through generations and centuries, maintaining its significance to this day.
Having been introduced during the early days of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Laaksha handicrafts have a special connection with the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, dating back to the times of the country’s monarchy. Over the centuries, many window frames, poles, flag poles, and ‘Sesath’ poles used during the annual Esala Perahera or procession are intricately decorated with beautiful Laaksha patterns.
The art of Laaksha continues to be cherished in Sri Lanka for its cultural significance and artistic beauty. It serves as a testament to the country’s rich heritage and craftsmanship, and its association with religious and royal traditions makes it an integral part of Sri Lanka’s cultural identity.
What are the raw materials used to make Laksha?
The larvae of the Laksha insect, which inhabits trees like cones, masons, kappetiya, and thalakiriya, are used to make laksha or artificial dyes and Woods like Michelia champaca(Ginisapu), Thespesia populnea ( Gansuriya) and Swietenia mahagoni ( Mahogony).
What is the Process?
In the traditional Laksha industry, colors were obtained by mixing Laksha with green and yellow, using Sadilingam. Initially, only red, yellow, and black were the primary colors used. Over time, blue, green, and white were introduced. Today, machine-made dyes like titanium allow for additional colors such as purple, lead, copper, and gold.
There are two basic techniques used in this design. Specifically, lathe work and nail work.
- The technique of using finger-nails for Laksha works is called “niyapoten veda.” Skilled lac-workers practice this art while seated with a chatty (pot) containing a charcoal fire to work on decorating objects with Laksha. The process begins by coating the object with the desired ground color, followed by warming it over the fire. The lac is then pressed and smoothed using a talipot leaf. Intricate designs are meticulously created, and when complete, the lac is expertly severed with the thumbnail. Finally, the finished piece is polished with a talipot leaf coated with coconut oil. This technique is used to craft various items, including coconut shell spoons, flutes, Sesath poles, and coconut shell hammer shakers, showcasing the artisans’ skill and creativity.
- The other technique, known as Pattal Wada or “spool-work,” involves rotating the object to be decorated on a lathe while applying a hardened stick of lac. The friction generated by the rotation softens the lac, allowing it to adhere to the object’s surface. This method is suitable for items that can be turned on a lathe, resulting in most of the crafted objects having rounded shapes. Pattal Wada is a unique and specialized technique that adds to the diversity and beauty of Laksha handicrafts.
What Sort of Finished Products Does Laksha Produce?
- Flower pots
- jewellery boxes
- teapots, ashtrays
- candle stands
- powder tins
- medicine boxes
- food storage tins
- clothes hangers
- replicas of Buddhist temple shrines
Where are the Major Manufacturing Areas of Laksha?
Matale-Hapuvida, Tangalle-Angulmaduwa, Kandy-Hurikaduwa, Balangoda-Pallekanda. Today, only a few full-time Lac workers remain in the industry as craftsmen.
Laaksha artists continue to produce their crafts with immense dedication and hard work. They hold deep respect and devotion to this traditional craft, striving to create high-quality goods. Amidst various challenges, they take pride in keeping this art form alive in the present. The industry passed down through generations since the time of kings, has now become a niche art form engaged by a small community. Encouraging programs that support and preserve this heritage would be invaluable, safeguarding its existence for future generations.