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What is Panchaloha?

The use of gold and other precious metals in religion and worship has been in practice since the ancient times. To this day, many religions still use gold, silver, or alloys consisting of such metals in the creation of objects expressly employed for religious purposes. Since ancient times, metals have always been given supernatural powers or qualities that link them to divine powers beyond human comprehension, and thus they made the perfect mediums for the creation of objects that depicted some form of divinity or other. Panchaloha is just one of the many metal alloys that was believed to be sacred and was thus reserved only for religious use. Panchaloha is a special alloy made in India, some parts of Sri Lanka, and Tibet for the express use in making religious icons and idols known as murti. Panchaloha is a Sanskrit word which literally translates to ‘five metals’ (pancha meaning five, and loham meaning metal)[1] , a name which came about due to the unique composition of the alloy which involved mixing five different kinds of metals into one specialized alloy which was considered to be inherently imbued with sacred characteristics. The five metals that compose an alloy of panchaloha were traditionally gold, silver, copper, iron, and lead[2] . This traditional composition was originally kept a secret by the ancient metalworkers of India and Tibet, with the earliest mention of the five metal alloy being the Shilpa shastras[3] , an ancient Sanskrit text that held instructions on the proper creation and consecration of sacred icons. In Tibetan practice, the iron is usually replaced by another kind of sacred metal known as thokcha, or ‘sky-iron’, a rare ore that was taken from fallen meteorites. Due to the scarcity of thokcha, it was only incorporated in part, if ever any was available at all. Tibetan belief held that a panchaloha icon with even trace amounts of sky-iron was doubly auspicious, making its powers more potent, and, in effect, making it doubly sacred as a whole. A typical composition of the panchaloha alloy would be 4 portions of silver, 1 portion of gold, 16 portions of copper or brass, and a very minute portion of iron or thokcha, although this recipe may vary from artisan to artisan or between different regions and sects[4] .

Since panchaloha contained precious metals its production and use were once limited solely to temples, with small statuettes being possessed only by the very wealthy. Due to its content of gold and silver, as well as its associated mystical powers, murti were closely guarded and highly cherished by whosoever managed to possess them, with privately owned murtis being passed down from generation to generation. To this day, some high end or traditionally made panchaloha are still created using this traditional five-metal alloy. Because they are usually hand-made or cast using a the lost wax process, they can be very costly, and is highly valued both as religious icons and as collectibles by non-Hindus. Because of its sacred status, panchaloha murti have only been recently made available to the west, with very few artisan companies specializing in its creation and sale.

In western occult lore, the five-metal alloy is considered to be a representation of the five planetary objects that comprise the whole of this plane. It was also bore some degree of correspondence to the five ‘elements’, or the five ‘powers’ that are manifest in all things, with each metal usually given a distinct affinity to a certain planetary body[5] . It should be noted that during ancient times, the sun and the moon were considered planets, with their corresponding metals being gold and silver (sol and luna in alchemical correspondence). Because many of the arcane lore adopted by western ceremonial magicians have their roots in various cultures, this association is not far from the truth. Nowadays, panchaloha icons are also produced for a wider market, although these cheaper, ‘mass produced’ icons omit gold and silver in the alloy, usually replacing gold and silver with brass and tin. Some examples may retain a very minute amount of both gold and silver, although these can still be somewhat costly. Traditionally made panchaloha are priceless and highly valued, and rarely if ever are they sold outside of India.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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