Silver Filigree : ‘Tarakasi’ from Cuttack

Weaving away dreams with silver wire

I was visiting my home town of Cuttack, Odisha during Diwali after 24 long years. Diwali is more popularly celebrated as Kali Puja in Odisha and other eastern states of India. During my childhood days, after bursting all our crackers, we would go pandal hopping. Keeping up with the childhood tradition, I set out for pandal visit in the evening. What struck me was many of the Kali idols were adorned with elaborate silver frames (medha) famously known as the filigree work or tarakasi. Next day I read in a local newspaper that several quintals of silver have been used all over the city for the same.

Silver Filigree (Tarakasi)

Tarakasi’ or ‘Silver Filigree is one of the most exquisite renditions of silver craft. In Odiya, tara means wire and kasi is design. Beaten silver is drawn into thin fine wires and foils, which are then fashioned together to create show pieces or jewelry of infinite beauty. Similar kind of craftsmanship is found in Indonesia as well. According to sources, the silver craft of Odisha, may have traveled to Indonesia through the Odisha-traders’ community. Similarly it is also possible that it has come from Indonesia via the same route. It is said that ancient Egyptians were also experts in silver filigree. Wherever may be the origin of silver filigree, it is one of the most beautiful forms of human craftsmanship ever practiced.

Presently the main hub for silver filigree is Cuttack in Odisha. More than 100 families are engaged in this artistic excellence. The filigree artists work with an alloy of 90% or more pure silver. The process of creating the filigree is interesting. The ingots of silver are first heated and then beaten on an anvil and elongated into thin, long wire. Then it is passed through a steel plate with apertures of different wire gauges to draw thin wires, sometimes as thin as hair. These wires are then wound together after heating for the second time and then bent into various shapes to get the patterns. The space within frame is filled with the main rib of the pattern, which is usually a creeper, flower petal and honeycomb.

Silver filigree jewelry and show pieces are popular as gifts, souvenirs and home décor. Vermillion boxes, brooches and intricate anklets with a combination of semi-precious stones are some of the unique and popular items. Traditional tarakasi waist-bands (Kamar-bandh) are still worn in marriages, completed with tarakasi anklets and toe-rings.

The craftsmen have extended their imagination and creativity to create beautiful artifacts around local odiya themes  like the Konark Chakra, idols of Lord Jagannath and Ganesh, the decorated ancient maritime boats (Boita) as well as more universal themes like Tajmahal. One of the most popular pieces is from Bhagavad Gita depicting the chariot of Arjuna driven by Lord Krishna. These souvenirs have successfully made silver filigree on global map, garnering accolades from fine-art admirers.

Odissi dance is one of the classical dance forms of India. An odissi dancer dresses herself with sambalpuri saree and silver tarakasi ornaments, namely choker, padaka-tilaka(necklace), bahuchudi(armlets), kankana(bracelets), a mekhalaa(belt), anklets, bells, kapa( earrings) and a seenthi(ornament tied on hair and forehead). These ornaments are embellished with natural uncut stones with silver and gold. Odissi dancer and filigree ornaments compliment and glorify each other so well that their combination creates magic on dance shows.

The hub, Cuttack, is the home of hundreds of artisans, who are in this craft for generation. Once upon a time it was patronized by the royals, including the Mughals. Today Cuttack is among the last few centers in the world where this craft still survives. Unfortunately, silver filigree is a dying art due to lack of investment, skill upgrade and lack of policy for development of this art form. The craftsmanship survives only due to sheer determination of the artisans who consider it as an integral part of the culture of Odisha. Of late the organizers of Durga Puja and Kali Puja have come forward in the rescue of this art. The puja pandals are getting decorated with silver filigree backdrop,  popularly known as ‘Chandi Medha’.It has given a fresh lease of life to the art as well as to the artists.

 

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