Traditional jeweller Ramu Achary, whose age-old craft techniques are rare to come by…

They conceptualised and handcrafted exquisite gem studded and gilded addigais, malais, oddiyanams, thalai saaman, necklaces, vankis and rings to adorn god and man alike. Their traditional designs and meticulous craftsmanship have been passed on from generation to generation as part of our jewellery heritage.

Yet the descendants of the once proud Vishwakarma community of jewellers or thataans, inheritors of this fabled jewellery tradition, today live in near-penury, their craft elbowed out by the glitz and glamour of machine-made jewellery, while their skills are being allowed to languish and die.

“We have in depth knowledge of stone, setting and aesthetics, which is based on mythology, the scriptures, Nature and rituals,” says Ramu Achary, whose ancestors belonged to the Vishwakarma community and have practised temple jewellery making for several generations. “We learnt the craft from our elders and gurus. We observed the correct time, aachaaram and punyasthalam before starting work. Our hand techniques are precise and meticulous.”

Faithful reproductions

Ramu Achary began crafting jewellery at the age of 10, and today, is an expert. He makes traditional bangles, bracelets, necklaces, nose rings and earrings – from scratch… from choosing the appropriate gems such as diamonds and rubies to the final finish and polish of an ornament. Some of his designs are more than 100 years old; he can faithfully reproduce any piece of jewellery.

Yet in the past two decades, his work had come to a standstill with customers shifting to machine-made jewellery. The days of calling on a thattan to fashion a piece of jewellery seems to be over. Says Ramu, “Our community was and is still in dire straits; in fact, many have committed suicide. It was at this point that Rajam Subramaniam , a Crafts Council of India member, literally pulled me out of the abyss by giving me work. Soon, more work followed and today, I have two trainees to help me.”

Ramu has also helped revive a lost design -- what he calls the saradu pattern. With this hand-plaited technique, one can make bangles, necklaces, oddiyanams and so on. “To make a bangle, I create a 100-inches long, 1/100 of an inch diameter, 20-gauge gold thread by putting it through a lathe. Then I heat it over coal for five minutes after which I immerse it in water. After this, I take 2, 4, 6 or 8 strands of the micro thin gold thread as dictated by the width of the pattern and literally plait it by hand. After plaiting it, I flatten it with an iron roll. This craft is all but gone. I learnt this from one of the surviving masters in Puducherry. I have already trained 30 artisans in this craft.”

Like the old time goldsmiths, Ramu takes orders from customers and meticulously replicates their concepts using his traditional skills. He works at his tiny place -- 24/27, Kuzhandaivel Street, Purusawalkam, Chennai-7. (Ph: 98412 23950).

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