Kasthakala: The Art of Nepalese Woodcarving

Bookworm Issue 217 Dec, 2019


From 1975 to 1979, Heinrich Meyer worked with the Bhaktapur Development Project, both as an architect and aiding in monument conservation. It was during this period that he met the Silpakar woodcarvers, with whom he developed a lasting bond as they worked together both to restore ancient buildings and revive historic carving traditions. 

It was following the April 2015 earthquake that Heinrich Meyer came across the pictures he had taken during those years, which form the basis of his spectacular—this is not hyperbole, there is no other word for it—book, Kasthakala: The Art of Nepalese Woodcarving. The book contains hundreds of close up photographs and drawings of carved windows, struts, pillars and other wooden relics, along with their backgrounds, history and dating. At first glance it may appear too detailed for the layperson, but actually it’s anything but. We have had a copy in our office for several months and it is a constant source of fascination for all of us; we have learned so much from it and it’s become an invaluable resource, too. I never tire of looking through it, and examining the minutiae of these intricate wood carvings has had the effect of making each of us appreciate this angle of Nepal’s heritage even more. 

The book itself a high-quality volume, with text in both English and German, and opening it to any page is an enlightening experience. And even though it is primarily a photo book, the accompanying text is detailed and incredibly well-researched; read straight through it is certainly among the most, if not the most, in-depth treatises on the wooden carvings of the Kathmandu Valley. These images, now over 40 years old, are also an invaluable historical record of these pieces, both sacred and quotidian, and one that certainly deserves a place in the library of anyone who’s passionate about this facet of Nepali craftsmanship and history. 

Kasthakala: The Art of Nepalese Woodcarving by Heinrich Meyer was published by Vajra Books in 2017 and can be found at their shop in Jyatha, Thamel, and anywhere else good books are sold.