Naqqashi or repousse is the art of engraving lavish and intricate designs on metal. Metal artisans in Lucknow have been practicing this traditional art form for generations. During the time of the Nawabs, it was a lucrative business for artisans to sell their work to the British and to markets in North India. However, as timeless as this craft may be, the art of decorative engraving is slowly disappearing.
Traditionally, intricate naqqashi was engraved on copper, brass and silver, but today artisans are turning to aluminum and steel. The raw materials are sourced from the cities of Mathura and Moradabad in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, and the city Jagadhri in the Indian state of Haryana. The metals can be purchased in the form of rectangular and circular sheets.Tools that are commonly used to create the designs include chisels, hammer, iron slabs and paper stencils and iron dies. For designs, the sheet is laid over a lac bed and bossed with chisels and punches.
The standard products range from Paandaan (which contains various small containers used to prepare paan) to Ughaldaan, the spittoons used after chewing paan, Khassdaans, elaborate vessels with a lid to store sweets, to a number of pots, jugs and cooking utensils that were used daily for cooking, washing hands, storing water as well decorative objects for ceremonies or for home decor. The motifs of naqqashi are similar to those found in Mughal art designs such as the half-moon, full moon, stars and floral designs. The only with the underlying difference in the intricacy of this work.
Currently, there are only 15 artisans who practice naqqashi in Lucknow. The decline has been attributed to numerous reasons including falling market demand for handmade products, competition from cheaper machine made products, low income-earning potential, younger generations disinterested in keeping the tradition alive and seeking other forms of employment.
Swati Seth is the founder of The Color Caravan. The venture partners with independent craftspeople, Self Help Groups & NGOs across India to co-create products and helps bridge gap between artisans and the market, thereby reviving the handicrafts as well as livelihood.To learn more about The Color Caravan, please visit: www.thecolorcaravan.com and www.facebook.com/thecolorcaravan.