In the land of polished stones & surfaces

white beauties

Tourists in the city of Taj Mahal are enthralled by the exquisite marble works. When it comes to Indian marble works, the name that strikes the mind is Agra. Marble is one of the most cherished crafting stone, and the art of marble crafting reached the zenith of its glory during the Mughal era. Creation of Taj Mahal brought fame to the art of marble crafting since the rule of Shah Jahan.

Uttar Pradesh ranks among the leading states in India in marble production, and in this era of television and the Internet, marble crafting provides a source of livelihood to more than 1,000 craftsmen in the state. Agra is one of the most significant centres for marble carving, and other destinations are Mathura and Vrindavan in the heartland of Braj Bhoomi. It is also well known in Jaipur, Udaipur and Bikaner, with intricate jali works on marbles.

It is often that tourists visiting Agra come across a cache of white marble works on display, like miniature Taj Mahal, trinket boxes, vases and lamps, in state government emporiums. In fact, they are must-buy items for tourists.

These impressive works are chiselled out of soft and white Italian alabaster. Italian marble is quite soft, has a waxy look and is the ultimate choice of sculptors.

The marble craftsmen of Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan are known for their spectacular, age-old skills that require a lot of efforts. They make use of ancient tools for sculpting. Designs are cut on brass sheet, traced on stones and then gradually chiselled out. Geometric and floral patterns embellish the marble and is further adorned with inlay, painted and polished to impart a shining look. Once the images are sculpted, the brush is yielded to impart colour.

There are around 12 marble carving factories in Agra that have around 2,500 workers, and these factories date back to 150 years. For an artisan, it takes around three to four hours to carve a single miniature statue in marble, while bigger statues take at least five hours. The craftsmen engaged in marble carving hail from Thakur, Pandit and Baniya castes of Uttar Pradesh.

The products from Agra have a high demand in African countries, the United Kingdom and Pakistan. White marble statues portraying Hindu pantheons are popular in the pilgrim resort of Vrindavan. Both Italian and soft marble are treated in hot water before the process of cutting begins.

The soft marble products come at a throwaway price and start at Rs 50 and go up to Rs 250, while the Italian marble works are more smooth and begin at Rs 300. There are brilliant white marble statues of Lord Radha and Krishna at Hanuman Market (in Vrindavan), Lord Hanuman, Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi, highly adorned in colourful attire. The embellished statues of Lord Krishna and Radha are all-time favourites for pilgrims.

Other places to look out for the marble works are in the vicinity of Shri Krishna Balaram Temple at ISKCON in Vrindavan, Krishna Janambhoomi and Dwarkadhish Temple at Holi Gate in Mathura, Barsana, Nandgaon, Gokul and Govardhan in Braj Bhoomi.

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