IIJS Signature Promotes India’s Traditional Skills

Mumbai: The Crafts Pavilion, promoted by the Gem & Jewellery Skill Council of India (GJSCI) at IIJS Signature 2020, had turned the spotlight on three of the country’s spectacular traditional jewellery making crafts, with the aim of helping to revive, modernise and eventually market these localised art forms.

A visit to the comparatively simply decorated stall at the show revealed teams of artisans from three different states demonstrating the skills that have been handed down over multiple generations.

There were eye catching ornaments and gift items with complex designs and intricate detailing including handcrafted Temple Jewellery from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu, the Art of Bidri, native to Bidar in Karnataka and the delicate craftsmanship of Silver Filigree in Karimnagar district in Telangana.

The craftsmen from Tamil Nadu explained that their family has been engaged in creating Temple inspired jewellery, which is worn during wedding ceremonies and childbirth, for more than eight generations. “This art originated in the 9th century during the Chola dynasty and pieces like these were initially used to adorn Gods and Goddesses in the temple,” they elaborated, explaining that the gold base is worked upon to create a variety of designs like peacocks, the lotus, and other symbols.

There are barely about 100-150 families in Karimnagar who continue to practice the art of silver filigree in jewellery, a craftsman tells us, adding that the numbers are gradually diminishing. Filigree jewellery incorporates handcrafted twisted threads of precious metals into the design which is then soldered to the gold or silver to create myriad shapes such as lacy flourishes, beautiful scroll work, symmetrical Art Deco style patterns, etc.

“It is intricate work, and takes time to master,” he explains, elaborating, “The strips of fine silver wire are crimped into zig zag patterns and loops to form versatile designs, and these are soldered to create trellis like patterns with similarity to a jali.”

Another localised form that is found only in a certain region in north east Karnataka is Bidri. This intricate art form – where gold or silver is inlaid on a plate, came to India around the 16th century during the period that this part of the country was ruled by the Bahamani kings.

Explaining the process by which the elegant black and silver jewellery and artefacts are created, an artisan from Bidar says, “Designs are engraved on a metal base and then inlaid with pure silver wire. After polishing and buffing, the metal is oxidised to give a stunning lustrous black finish with silver inlay.”

He adds, “While traditionally in Persia, the silver work is done on steel or copper, in Bidar designs are engraved on an alloy of zinc, with some copper and other non-ferrous metals, which has a gleaming black finish when oxidised with Bidar soil which contains special properties.”

GJSCI Chairman Mr. Sanjay Kothari says that the organisation is trying to help resurrect these skills and draw up plans so that each art gains wider recognition, and brings commercial returns to those who practice it as well. “The artisans do not have much exposure, and some of them from more remote regions, are even hesitant to display their trade at such a public event. We are trying to highlight their skills and link them up with jewellers who can further develop these art forms, which will be highly appreciated in many parts of the world.”

The GJSCI has taken up multiple programmes involving these traditional crafts. In 2018 it conducted the Anant jewellery design competition, where students from across the country were invited to present sketches of designs based on three such traditional manufacturing crafts: Hupari Payal from Kolhapur, Maharashtra; Tarakasi from Cuttack, Odisha; Thewa from Pratapgarh, Rajasthan; and Gajra from Bhuj, Gujarat. The response was overwhelming.

GJSCI has already created Qualification Packs (QP) for ‘Payal Maker’ (Hupari) and ‘Tarakasi Jeweller’ (Cuttack), and offered RPL certification for the same. The organisation also worked with the government to help set up a Skill Cum Common Facility Centre in Cuttack to help the artisans there with production and marketing of the jewellery for national and international markets. It will impart skills with the aim of making them self-sustainable.