Thirubuvanam, Tamil Nadu, India...
The lac bangles form an essential part of tradition. The red coloured bangle or the green coloured ones are purchased during weddings. The pink ones are popularly worn during Holi. This craft is also used to create rings, toe rings (bichchua), anklets (payal), nose rings, necklaces, Bala, Bajuband, Rakhi, Gajra, Gokhru, Timaniyan and ‘maathe ka tika’. The lac is also sometimes used to hold the ornament when it is being set with precious/semi-precious stones or enameled. It is also used to fill the ornaments to give it body and strength.
It has been a custom that the bride wears lac bangles on her wedding day and after being married. In the earlier days, the lac-bangle-makers were called specially to homes to put the bangles on the bride. A similar custom would ensue whenever a child would be born in a household. These signify the importance of these bangles and their makers in a religious, cultural and auspicious context. The beauty these bangles hold is their ability to be customized. The manihari women create custom made accessories for their clientele by adjusting the bangle to the desired size and ornamenting them with the preferred beads, stones, crystals and other embellishments fancied by the she patrons visiting the store. The lac bangles can be reused once broken too. Mild heating and shaping can rejoin them. Too many times, however makes the lacquer brittle. Therefore the reworking has a limit of 8 to 10 times only. Many Rajasthani rituals require specific ornamentations and the lac bangles are one of them. These are highly sought after for local celebrations such as teej, the marwari festival of gangaur, karva chauth, holi, weddings and special ceremonies for the mothers-to-be. They are considered to be soothing to wear and do not cause infections or itchiness like in the case of plastic or glass bangles.
The craftsmen working on lac bangles are called the Lakhera. The Lakhara get their name from the Sanskrit ‘laksha-kuru’ meaning a worker in lac.
Story goes, that they have originated from Lord Shiva and his wife, Goddess Parvati. When Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati got married, she wanted to wear lac bangles as a depiction of a marital status. Lord Shiva had a devotee called Mahadhar Rahul, who was asked to make Goddess Parvati lac bangles. He went to a peepal tree and for the first time, made lac bangles. Goddess Parvati was very happy with the bangles and presented to him a handful of husked grains. Mahadhar Rahul exchanged the grains for more amount of flour with a shopkeeper. But when he looked at the few pieces of husked grain that remained in his bag, he saw that they had changed into precious stones. This is why it is believed that money went into the hands of businessmen while the Lakheras remained with just enough to be able to make a living and feed themselves.
According to another mythological tale, the dirt washed from the body of the goddess Parvati, after she adorned herself with 15 ornaments of a bride created the community. Shiva then created lac and asked the Lakhera to create bangles for her to wear, thus completing the ‘solah shringar’ or the 16 adornments of the bride.
Lac makes its appearance in texts as ancient as the Vedas. The Lakshataru or the Lac tree is a well-known feature. A small chapter is devoted to the Lac insect in the Atharva Veda. It appears in the story of the notorious Lac palace built by the Kauravas in a plot to eliminate the Pandavas in an episode from the 3000-year-old Mahabharata epic. Ayurveda stresses the importance of lac in medical therapies. India is one of the largest producers of lac and its principal exporter. It is widely used in food processing, textile, leather, cosmetics, varnish, and printing industries. Being biodegradable and eco-friendly its usage is becoming highly popular.
One of the oldest art objects in India, the bronze figurine of a dancing girl excavated at Mohenjo-Daro epitomizes the antiquity and the universality of wrist ornaments in India. The figurine stands in the nude with one arm at her hip, the other arm completely weighed down with a collection of bangles. Even the Yakshinis are depicted wearing bangles. Banabhatta’s Kadambari has a reference to Goddess Saraswati – Goddess of Learning, shown as wearing kangans.
Mohenjo-Daro, Mauryan, Brahmapuri and Taxila excavation in India gave a spectrum of materials used from shells, wood, leather, bones, ivory, jade, agate, stones, glass, clays, soil, lac, chalcedony and metals like copper, bronze, gold and silver. The creation varied from simple circular to precious stone embellished ones. Designs as simple as round spiral to an intricate carving of motifs made each bangle uniquely in appearance to indicate the status of its wearer. Each bangle also represented the culture and tradition of the region.
In early settlements, bangles were made by rubbing seashells or stones on hard surface to give shape of bangle. Simply giving shape and then drying made Clay bangles. As the metal was become a tool to human they used it in wide applications including making bangles. Further exploration gave them more appropriate shape and various designs and including inlay and stones embellishments. Discovery of glass and its ability to melt and cast as per requirement made it popular for ornaments like bangles. It also made bangles cheaper and easier to make thus allowing to be worn by many and in large numbers.
In Mandsaur, it is believed that the craft has been practiced for around 100 to 125 years. It is believed to have been started by Mahadhar Rahul and it was the origin of the community. They used to go to weekly haats and sell their bangles. This is why they are called the ‘haatariya’ gotra.
The lac bangles are made in a variety of ways. They are made plain with a smooth surface with a variety of colours. The lac sometimes acts as the base to hold pieces of precious and semi-precious stones as well as coloured glass.
They also experiment with colors in stripes, mostly slanted ones. The designs change according to occasion as well. For example, a bride’s bangles would be different in design than an unmarried girl’s or a married woman’s. These are made in a large variety of sizes and are often custom made as well.
The availability of Lac has decreased due to deforestation and led to the escalation of raw material costs. The lack of awareness has also led to the buyers expecting the products in the same prices. This has led to a decrease in demand and the number of outlets falling to around 200-250 in number from 1500 in the last few years. The craftsmen too have started to seek alternative professions with better returns.
Lac – Crimson red, plant sucking, tiny insects such as Laccifer lacca, Carteria lacca and Tachardia lacca colonize the branches of selected species of host trees and secrete a natural scarlet resin known as Lac. Later the different layers of resin residue on the coated branches of the host trees are scraped off as long sticks known as sticklac, crushed, sieved and washed several times to remove impurities till it shows up in natural red color. This is sourced mainly from Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh.
Giya Pathar –
Powder Coal – It is used to burn the Bhatti and also to heat the lac.
Semi-precious stones –
Colours in power form – pevdi (yellow), safeda (lithophone), mirgam (copper), green, chamki (gold).
Angethi – coal burner with flat steel plates/silla on top.
Kadai – It is a shallow vessel. This is generally an aluminum vessel used to melt lac in huge quantity either to make colors or normal lac rod.
Wooden rod – to hold the lac blocks and give them shape.
Stone piece – to grind the colors and in order to make it into powder grinding-stone is used.
Hattha – for pressing and shaping lac
Iron bangles -for sizing
Tin foil Round wooden rod/khali – for shaping bangles
Cutter Tool – for picking sequins
Haddi or bone shaped wooden tool
Chimta – this is a huge spatula used to stir the lac while heating.
Before the craft of making lac bangles became very commercialized, it was essential a community craft. The bangle makers were believed to be of the lineage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and hence with the auspicious and religious usage of the bangles, the makers too were also considered to be of a very high worldly order. Once the bangles were made, the bangle makers themselves were called upon to put them on the wearer. This continued to be a ritual associated with lac bangles for a long time.
Preparing the lac The lac pieces are melted in the shallow vessel till it reaches a semi-molten state. At this stage beroza and giya pathar powder is added along with powdered colors brought from the market. The mixture is stirred well. Once the mixture is properly made heating is stopped and the liquid is allowed to cool down to a semi solid state. After this it is stuck at the end of a wooden or cane stick.
Rang Chapna The normal lac, without the pigment, is stuck around a wooden rod is heated slowly over the coal burner or Angethi and is simultaneously pressed with a stone or a wooden tool called hattha at regular intervals. When it is sufficiently warm and soft, it is wrapped with the desired colour by rubbing the coloured lac stick on it evenly.
Rolling the bangle After the desired colour is applied, this lac piece is again shaped with the help of Hatta into a thin coil and then it is cut off from the plain lac rod. The thickness and the length of the coil approximately depend on the final shape and size of the bangles. This whole process is done by a single artisan and then passed on to different artisans. The coil is then placed in a farma or a mold for the shape of the bangle, and pressed with the help of hatta so that the coil takes the shape of the farma. This coil is taken out and heated over a burner. Moohjodai or joining the ends of the bangle is done using this heat.
Working on the bangle Another artisan takes up these coils and slips it onto a wooden beam with a tapering end, for different sizes. A cotton cloth is dipped in oil and used to hold these coils and rub them on the hot wooden beam. This gives a shine to the bangles and the process is called Ghotaai. Once the bangles have reached the desired shape and size, they are dipped in cold water and then left to dry.
Embellishments If adornment is required, these bangles are then heated over a tin plate kept on a small burner. Sequins or other embellishments are placed on this warm surface according to the design. They settle in and stick once the lac is cooled. The process requires great precision. It takes much longer when working with smaller sized sequins. This process is called Chipai.
List of craftsmen.
Interview – Dilip LakshKaar, Mandsaur