Traditionally this craft was developed to produce clothing hooks, rolling pins, spinning tops, show pieces, bed-posts and wooden poles used in occasions like marriage. But later seeing an increase in its appeal, craftsmen also created popular children's toys like toy-cars (about 10-15 types), small kitchen play set and tricycles. Over the years, the versatility of the craft and increase in resources led to the creation of many domestic products like bowls, jewellery, furniture and 'kumkum' (vermilion) boxes. The domestic utility products are sold in the main 'Budni market' while the toys are sold in smaller shops lining the highway.
Before the Indian independence, lacquer work was a flourishing craft that received patronage from the Nawab of Sehore. At the time only about two or three families were practicing the craft but with the Nawab's encouragement the numbers grew to include many more. By adding more techniques and creating new products, the craftsmen have greatly increased the attractiveness of the craft.
Around sixty years ago the craftsmen switched from manual production to diesel power and presently diesel has been replaced by electric power a much cleaner energy source. But this energy efficiency doesn't just stop here, as the craftsmen have found ingenious ways to run all their electrical appliances (lathe machine, cutting machine and other utility appliances like ceiling fans) through a single electric motor. One can also witness a similar resourceful thinking in their toys wherein different parts are connected to rotate together with a single effort.
The characteristic features of lacquer work are the use of bold solid colours with a glossy finish and a soft, delicate texture. The material used is versatile and can be combined with other materials like clay, silver and gold. Lac is both simple and flexible to work with, a factor which also challenges the craftsmen's concentration and skill.
The wood material used in the craft is 'Dudhi' wood and is sourced from the forest areas that lie in an 80 km radius of Budhni Ghat.
Myths & Legends
Objects finished with Lac, a resinous substance secreted by the lac insect, was common in India for centuries. Due to the abundance in its availability, Lac was commonly used in utility objects that were exchanged amongst relatives or bartered within the larger community. To increase its saleability these products were made to high quality, giving it a crisp, smooth and clean finish. The need for embellishment without changes in functionality led to the use of Lac, as it improves not only the colour but also adds strength and durability.
It is believed that the lacquer and woodwork crafts were practiced by the 'Lodhis' and 'Vishwakarma' communities for more than 300 years. Initially practiced by a few families, the patronage of the Nawab of Sheore greatly increased the craft to include almost 80 - 100 families. The 'Ahirs' and 'Gond' tribes living in surrounding forests also supported the craft by providing wood to the craftsman. Presently the wood is sourced from government controlled wood cutting mills, where wood is bought in bulk. The government has taken measures to ensure that the forests resources are controlled and protected. This has aided in the survival of the craft. In Budni of Bhopal, the people have been following woodcraft as a means of livelihood for several years. The lack of agricultural land has increased the importance of this craft.
Lacquered objects have a unique vibrancy to them. The colours used are bright, solid and sometimes muted to suit different tastes. The four main colours used are yellow, green, red and silver -“ grey, which are also mixed to create different shades. The lac is applied using a method of woodturning creating different patterns like loops and waves.
After being coated with several layers of different coloured lac, a fine point stylus is used to carve out patterns in a process called 'etching'. The commonly used designs have clean finishes in solid lac colours. Floral patterned designs mainly consist of yellow and red flowers in a panelled green surface, while designs like hunting or rural scenes are also to be seen.
The influx of cheap plastic and rising prices of wood left the craftsmen with low returns on their expertise and hard work. They then decided to create products which would be valued for their craftsmanship and not the amount of wood used in them. Today, the craftsmen try to incorporate the bright fluorescent colours of plastic in their lacquer products, to keep the customer interested. Still the market for these products is declining and this has caused the younger generation of craftsman families to move to better career opportunities. The biggest problem the craftsmen face is the fluctuating and scarce availability of electricity in the village, which causes delays leading to a decline in production capacity.