Wonders from the desert

Wonders from the desert

Leather craft

The remarkable skills and talents of Indian artisans, thriving across the country, intuitively find an outlet in various crafts, which otherwise do not excite an ordinary mind.

Exquisite : Leather products that never fail to attract.Their environment is their greatest inspiration, and a source to ignite the passion to come up with something truly unique and interesting. These are the people belonging to various tribes and rural communities who create amazing cultural identities the whole country can flaunt and feel proud of.

The vast desert of Rajasthan, amid its wilderness, nurtures craftsmen who see nothing beyond the insipid and arid region, but put their vivid imagination to use to come up with marvelous masterpieces.

The leather work of Rajasthan is one such art through which the local artisans, for centuries, have found a way to put their region on the map with unique handicraft items as their hallmark.

When alive, camels ferry desert dwellers to their destination and help them eke out a living. In death as well, these animals provide several benefits to their masters. The locals have long discovered the art of using the hide of dead animals, mainly that of camels, to make various ornamental objects for multiple uses like lamp shades, pouches, footwear and water carriers.

The list of leather items is quite long with the inclusion of traditional folk musical instruments like dhol, dhapli, tabla and kamaycha, which make use of animal hide. The use of hide in furniture has also been explored and chairs and stools made of hide are a common art there.

Bikaner, the city noted for its impressive palaces and Asia’s biggest camel farm, is well known for its leather handicrafts. Situated in the north-western part of Rajasthan, the beautiful leather products from the city are famous the world over and validate the claim that nowhere in the world is the hide of dead animals put to use as marvelously as they do in this region.

Besides ornate items in leather, the place is well known for the camel and horse saddles it makes. But, what really brings fame to Bikaner is kopi or kupi, indigenous bottles made of camel hide to keep water, oil or perfume. This item enjoys enormous popularity and is valued more as an art piece than as an object of everyday use.

At first, the hardened leather is made soft and its inner side is meticulously scraped to give it a smooth feel. When it becomes thin like paper, almost translucent, it is carefully stretched over a clay mould of the desired shape.

After the clay dries off completely, it is washed and the craftsman gets the neat mould, perfectly shaped.

The next step, called nakashi, involves decorating it with gesso work, which is basically the paste or a mixture of white lead/wood powder, plaster of Paris and glue which is used as an embossing material and covered with gold foil and paint. It provides a firm base for the painting and gives it a raised effect.

The city of Bikaner is noted for its leather products embellished with gesso art. The famous palace of the city showcases marvels of gesso work, revered as precious art pieces. The artisans have acquired mastery in this art over the years and make various decorative and useful items like lampshades and flask covers. Traditional leather footware from Jodhpur, Jaipur and Jaisalmer, called jootis and mojris, are also very popular for their impressive design, quality and beauty.

Besides gesso work, Rajasthan is well-known for several other beautiful items made of animal hide like sandals, pouches, hats and handbags. The leather handicraft in the region is a flourishing industry, providing the much-needed source of income to several skilled men and women.

Any item made of leather involves a laborious process consisting of various phases like washing, dying, cutting, tanning and shaping. While men generally do the tough part of the job, womenfolk make eye catching patterns and embellish them with coloured threads, sequins and mirrors.

Though the barrenness of the desert shows little mercy on people, they have found a way to channelise their imagination and skill to bring colour and beauty to not just their lives, but that of others as well.