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.
Myths & Legends
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.