The colourful lac craft might dwindle and die

The famous lac bangles of Jaipur in Lahariya style and colours have become a big craze among young women these days. The pink city’s colourful artefacts like lac ornaments, along with very recently initiated beautiful lac wall paintings, are adored and admired greatly by people throughout India. Multi- coloured neck pieces, rings, earrings in different shapes, lac bangles studded with beads and colourful glass stones like octane, or stones imported from China or Australia, enhance the beauty of these traditional ornaments.

Mohahmmad-Shamsher-and-his-wife

In recent times, through innovative techniques such fine products are being crafted skilfully with bronze, steel and other alternate materials that most of the time it becomes very difficult to identify the original lac products.

In traditional Indian families, lac bangles are also symbolised as suhag, gulali or haraa choodha, usually worn by a new bride just after marriage and for a certain period. Pink coloured bangles are worn exclusively during Holi. All in all, these bangles are considered very auspicious and specially purchased for festivities like Teej, Gangaur, Karva Chauth and other special ceremonies.

The art of making lac products is over 300 years old. To establish lac art industry in Rajasthan, the Jaipur Maharaja brought artists from Arabia and also from other States of India. During the formation of Jaipur, Maharaja Jai Singh II shifted the master craftsmen of lac work from Amer to Jaipur and today Jaipur has become a hub of lac industry.

In traditional Indian families, lac bangles are also symbolised as suhag, gulali or haraa choodha, usually worn by a new bride just after marriage and for a certain period.

In Rajasthan, the lac business is usually done by Lakhera and Manihar clans. Hindu families doing lac work are called Lakhera and the Muslims engaged in lac business are called Manihar.

Maniharon Ka Raasta, the lane where these craftsmen were placed in the pink city, is today acclaimed nationally for lac work. Situated in old Jaipur at Tripoliya Bazar, Maniharon Ka Raasta is a narrow crowded lane where hundreds of lac work artisans give shape to such unique art pieces for local sale and bulk export. This street is extremely busy, being jammed with buyers, and a cacophony of sound — of the buyers, sellers, workers and the honking of horn from the vehicles crawling here greets passersby. Add to this the flames from the craftsmen’s furnaces or wooden stoves and the entire street with so many lac shops gets a unique character.

The process of making lac products involves heating, combining, kneading, hammering and shaping through moulds or by hands.

Lac-and-paper-mache-colored-glass-decorative-piece

Basically the raw material or lac is the byproduct/waste from small insects and is acquired from trees such as Peepal, Bud and Plasa. Lac is usually imported from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and some other areas. After cleaning this waste, it is heated in large vessels and is formed into a hard circular base.

Lac is first heated on furnace or bhatti with charcoal and is similar to glue or a semi-liquid sticky material. It is then mixed with different natural colours like red, green and yellow, and sometimes with Japanese golden or silver glitters. The products that can be designed with pure lac are bangles, pens, brooches etc. Sometimes it is mixed with papermache to craft beautifully designed artefacts.

The entire process requires a lot of accuracy, skill and time, and the ratio of lac in the final product varies.

The younger artists are doing many variations in the lac products designed now. The cost range of these products is between ₹10 and ₹2 lakh.

Later the ready products are decorated with beads or colourful glasses, and this work which requires finesse is predominantly done by women. The decoration process is called Chipai.

It is nothing short of amazing that the size of the lac bangles can be easily adjusted or mild cracks in any product can be mended with mild heating, tender fabrication and gentle moulding. These craftsmen are so competent in their skill that by just seeing a woman’s hand, they can set the size of the bangle. However, lac products are heat prone and Rajasthan’s extreme hot weather is a major obstacle for this art.

“The younger artists are doing many variations in the lac products designed now. The cost range of these products is between ₹10 and ₹2 lakh,”says Shilp Guru and 2013 National Award winner Awaz Mohammad.

Craftsmen at work making a lac bangle.
Craftsmen at work making a lac bangle.

Awaz Mohammad, his wife Anwar Jahan and their entire family, including two sons and daughters, are engaged in lac work.

Conferred with many awards and one who has travelled globally 57-year-old Mohammad says, “I used to give training at IIJ, Mumbai, Amity and craftsmen of NGOs from other States too.” But he regrets that “due to lack of encouragement from the government, and competition with other substitute articles, these days lac work doesn’t get good response as compared to earlier times. I fear that in the coming days original and genuine lac work will vanish.”

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Mohamed Shamsher, an expert craftsman whose forefathers started this work 200 years ago, and whose entire family is now involved in the lac business, says this is a seasonal work and sale for these items increases during festivals or the marriage season. “During the emperor’s time, we used to make a unique lac piece called Gulal Gota, especially for the Holi festival. Gulal Gota is a small ball or potli made from a fine lac sheet filled with herbal colours. To make the Holi festival more enjoyable, these colourful, but harmless, potlis were thrown around.”

Forecasting a bleak future for the lac craft, he says this is exactly why “my entire family is educated. We have made sure that both our children and grand children get a proper education. Seeing the unsatisfactory conditions that are affecting this craft, and the extreme hard work required to do the work which fetches not much income, we feel that our younger generation will not pursue this profession in the coming years,” he sighs.

Pictures by Rtn Anubha Agarwal, RC Jaipur, D 3054.

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