Ashtadhatu and Panchaloha idols of Hindu deities - brief note

 In the Hindu  as well as Jain  temples across India and, in particular in the south,  almost all historical temples have metal idols. They are referred to as Ashtadhatu  (meaning  'eight metals'),  an alloy of eight metals often used for casting metallic idols. In Ashtadhatu  idols,  all eight metals -  gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, tin, iron and antimony or mercury  are blended in equal in equal proportion of 12.5% each to give durability and resistance to wear and tear. 

Ashtadhatu Ganapahi idol

Commonly  considered extremely pure, sattvic of Sattva, in Hinduism, such metallic idols are made by sthapathi as per Shilpa Sastras, a collection of ancient text-books dealing  with nuances of divine idol making for places of worship.  In temples metal idols of  trinity gods, Vishnu and Shiva (doing cosmic dance),  Krishna, Rama, Kartikeya, and goddesses, Durga and Lakshmi, etc., are common. 

The traditional metal idols commonly found in the temples of south India especially in Tamil Nadu  are called Panchaloha - Pañcadhātu in Sanskrit and the idol is made of an alloy of  five metals  gold, silver, copper, zinc, and iron. In some cases a small proportion of  tin or lead are used instead of zinc. 

Both Ashtadhatu and  Panchaloha idols are made by casting process and by  making molds of the required figure. The prospective images  are molded  initially in specially prepared wax (a mixture of beeswax and resin). Then, the figure  covered with clay  is sun-dried. Next the clay case is heated up  till  the molten wax is drained out  through a tiny opening, resulting in a hollow mold. A five-metal alloy called panchaloha, consisting copper (about 80%), brass (15%), lead with traces of special metals in liquid form is poured into the mold. After complete solidification of the alloy, mold is broken open revealing the idol. The final touch is given  though a long process of chiseling out unwanted stuff, reshaping, shinning and polishing the end product. The sthapathis start the process on an auspicious day with puja  and finish it on a good day. It is a time consuming process and the workers need skill and patience.  

In all Hindu temples, the processional or festival murthy (idol) is placed in the sanctum along with the moolavar idol (primary idol) which is mostly made of hard stone. During festival time the festival murthis are taken out of the sanctum for special pooja or for religious procession.  The tradition has it that the Utchava murthis are made of an alloy of metals for prolonged use and easy to carry  from one to another during festivities. Such idols are used for Theerthavari at the near-by water body in Tamil Nadu and for ''Aarattu'' in Kerala temples. In many temples the abhisheka or special decoration is done to the panchaloha idols. The festival deity of Tiruvannamalai Sri Arunachaleswarar is  taken to Theerthavari (month of Thai) at river Thenpennai at Manalurpet in the neighbouring Villupuram District, a stretch of 25 km. 

In the annual Aarattu ritual performed  at the Hindu temple festivals of  Kerala, the  priest, with reverence, takes the idol on the elephant to the near-by water tank or river and  bathe the processional  idol of the temple  deity by dipping it in the water. It is mainly carried out at the end of a temple festival. Such idols of deities have been in use for centuries and every Hindu temple has representative deities in the form of metal idols for conducting festivals, etc. 

It is strongly  believed that such idols, if installed at home, will impart  self-confidence, good health,  prosperity and peace of mind. The thieves  target such antique idols for monetary gains.