Knots of IdentityLocation - Rajkot
The Taj Mahal is a teardrop on the cheek of time - Rabindranath Tagore
Much of the Taj Mahal’s mystique and grandeur is courtesy the historic Pacchikari artform- the art of engraving stone motifs on marbles.
The towering minarets of Taj Mahal are laden with intricate patterns of the Pachhikari art.
The Pacchikari designs that reflect on every inch of the majestic Taj extend beyond the monument itself. The art has seeped into the veins of Agra and risen across the walls and pillars of almost every historic architecture in the city.
Here, the famous tomb of Begum Mumtaz reflects in all her glory. Elaborate Pacchikari designs glow in the rich history of the Mughal era.
Outside the monuments and into the narrow streets of Agra, the city’s romance with art continues. It is amidst these brick houses that one finds the workshops of tireless, talented artists keeping the art of Pacchikari alive.
Draped in layers of Green, Blue and Yellow the city’s brick walls breathe history. The Pacchikari artists have dwelled and evolved here over decades.
Work is worship. There is hardly a place where this adage is truer than a Pacchikari artist’s workplace. As the bright sunlight rages through the open door, the artist gears himself for long bouts of unwavering attention and patience.
A typical artist’s shelf in a Pacchikari workshop. Notice the careful arrangement of the raw materials and the symmetry of the brackets. It is amazing how something as banal as a shelf on the wall can be designed to look artistic. This is where a typical day in the life of an artist begins as he starts carving magic on marble.
A Pacchikari artist shares an integral relationship with light. In a world of many shades and hues, a trained eye makes a choice in split seconds.
The day begins with a hundred abstract pieces at the mercy of the master craftsman. They will twist and turn, melt and shine and be reborn in the artist’s imagination. Each element seamlessly lending itself to solve an intricate puzzle.
The most essential elements of the Pacchikari art are the coloured stones. These stones are destined to go through a transformation as they mould into patterns.
The Blue stone or Lapislazuli, The Brown stone or Jasper and the Golden Stone or Tiger Eye are a few to fire the artist’s imagination.
Alongside the coloured stones lie the pristine white marbles – the foundation for the inlay art. These marbles (in different shapes and forms) serve as the base for the art.
The artist is now set to unleash the centuries’ old skill on sparkling stones and glistening marbles. It’s a strenuous few hours ahead that will require him to be at his attentive best. Yet again.
The stones are first shaped into motifs (or patterns) to be laid on the marble. This process is known as Honing and sets the tone for the unforgivable margins of error in this art.
Hours of Honing has taught the artist’s hand how to stay motionless. With incredible precision the stones take a new shape.
The next task is to chisel the marble foundation to make nests for the honed stones. The chiselled spots are then highlighted against an Orange background made with Henna (Mehendi). This demarcation makes the process easier for the artist.
The skill of the Pacchikari artist lies in his stability. With a delicate yet decisive grip on his tools, the artist charts out his imagination on marble.
The artist has to not only chisel out the shapes but also maintain the overall symmetry. A tiny lapse of concentration can result in going back to square one.
Meanwhile, the honed stones cut into minute threadlike forms are held over a candle flame. The flame brings out different colour gradations in each stone thread. Core colours turn various shades and add vibrancy to the final pattern.
A mock pattern is formed with the stones ready to lay the foundation for the motifs.
With the marble and the motifs ready, it’s time for the bond that keeps them loyal. A few chemicals are mashed into a powdered glue.
The chemicals combine in a semisolid paste to form an adhesive.
Which is then uniformly applied over the engraved areas on the marble.
Finally, the artist places the stones on the traced sketch printed on the marble. He then draws a new outline to match with the previous sketch. Slowly a beautiful pattern laced with threads of different coloured stones, comes to life.
A few finishing touches and yet another Pacchikari masterpiece is ready to be etched in history.
Perfection is paramount for a Pacchikari artist. Precision in measurement and art is a mandate thanklessly carried out everyday.
The real Pacchikari artform is a blend of the artist’s mechanics with his creative genius. The cautiously carved motifs burst into life with different colours.
Just like the majestic Taj Mahal, every Pacchikari artwork is a sum of its parts. Individual elements seamlessly coming together for the bigger picture. Each stone can be traced back to the entire process it has gone through.
Pacchikari is also heavily inspired by nature. For example, this peacock themed design on a marble base.
Hours of creativity and unlimited imagination sees the art translate into hundreds of motifs and patterns every day.
It is a difficult yet cherished route that a Pacchikari artist undertakes. Brought alive with extreme care and creativity, a stunned look of awe is the usual compliment they receive.
Each day in the life of a Pacchikari artist begins with a new pursuit on a different canvas.
He not only has to produce the masterpiece but also duplicate it with unerring precision.
And yet, Pacchikari remains one of the toughest arts to master. Every step is one to a point of no return. A slight misjudgement or a quiver of hands and the artist has to start all over.
Despite this, the artists have carried on as the messengers of this art across generations. Flanked by deadpan brick walls, these Pacchikari artists continue carving history on marbles.
Art and a splash of colours has become a way of life for this community. Everywhere you look, there are focused eyes staring at you amidst a burst of vibrant colours. There might be many who love their art but the Pacchikari artists know how to live it.
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