One of the first things that you notice in Myanmar is gold leaf. It illuminates throughout the country as part of their integral life. From pagodas to lacquer to cosmetics, you cannot miss it.
At every important temple across the country, you get handed the wafer thin sheets on bamboo sticks as though it was honeycomb. These are then used as offerings by rubbing it on the Buddhas nose or where it is most needed and giving a prayer. After weeks of following the same method, what I really wanted to understand was the process behind it.
Read on to learn about the gold beaters punctuating beat that inspird Rumi to whirl, the meticulous and laborious method that most take for granted...
What is gold leaf and how is it made?
Quite a few people have asked me this and I was flabbergasted by the facts of how to make it. It is a methodical, laborious method that requires a lot and extreme amount of time and physical strength before it reaches its delicate fine state.
You need 2 ounces of gold bullion that is placed in an extruder - a 20 foot long ribbon of gold comes out that is about 3/4 inches wide. The ribbon is then cut into 5ft pieces, then cut again into 200 equal pieces of gold. Each piece is placed between 2 sheets of bamboo paper, then secured into a bundle. Once strapped into a form it is attached to a rock slab.
The weight of one man is needed to straddle the rock and to then start pounding the gold for 30 minutes, using a 6lb hammer. This intial session makes the gold spread. The men then take the flattened flakes of gold and cut it into 6 equal pieces, stacked back into the bamboo paper and bundled all over again. Slowly - after more rigourous pounding - the 200 turn into 1200 pieces. The process is repeated for 5 hours of 30 minute intervals in the shade, but the humidity is suffocating and sweat is pouring.
During the final hour, pounding time is clocked and strokes counted by using a special clock called clepsydra. A Clepsydra is made from half a coconut shell to collect the water at the bottom of the rock. The beater must complete 120 strokes before the cup is full, which usually happens 18 times an hour. It requires the strength of 3 men to complete this final stage.
The constant beating makes the entire package of gold so hot that the flakes start spreading and expanding whilst enabling the gold not to stick to the bamboo paper. Even though it is hard work, the beaters are motivational and inspirational.
VOILA! That is how it is made.
A wonderful fact that I also learned was that the poet Rumi was first inspired to whirl when he heard the rhythm of the gold beaters beat accompanying the call to prayer in a market in Persia, where gold leaf is also widely used.