About 50 years ago, it was common to spot caravans of camels making their way on Rajasthan’s desert sands, balancing iron ‘tagaris’ or huge decorated urli-like vessels, packed with provisions, and iron ‘surahis’ filled with water.
The description by westerners of traditional Indian cooking vessels as being “perfectly designed, marrying utility with tremendous aesthetics” works for both the ‘tagari’ and ‘surahi.’ Etched, incised, embossed, painted and crisscrossed with delicate patterning of iron rods by generations of ironsmiths and artisans, the ‘tagari’ and ‘surahi’ are symbolic of the Indian artisan’s superb skills. Today, both these utensils have been edged out by plastic containers though a few ancient pieces can be seen in village homes.
Hari Narayanan Sharma is an artisan who has reinvented Rajasthan’s ancient iron craft for contemporary tastes. He makes huge vases with ‘surahi’-like shapes and ‘tagaris’ for today’s urban clientele. Sharma says, “Earlier, iron surahis and tagaris were part of every household. My vases carry a whiff of the old surahi, both in the shape and the motifs. As for the tagari, I’ve retained the old shape but de-cluttered the embossing work with motifs of flowing vine and flowers. A touch of jaali work at the rim adds aesthetic value.”
Talking about the process, Sharma explains, “I buy the iron sheet, cut it to the required size and make a mould for shaping. The jaali work is done on the sheet and we than knock it into the desired shape by driving huge specially crafted nails. Painting and embossing work are done on the surahi and tagari often by the ladies who use ‘mehndi’ cones for embossing. The designs are free hand so no two pieces look alike.”
Odisha’s Suryakant Mohapatra, traditional Patachitra painter and palm leaf artisan, makes detailed and nuanced Patachitra portraits of Lord Jaganatha as well as Krishna Leela themes and vignettes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Son of National Award winning palm leaf mastercraftman Baikuntha Mohapatra, Suryakant’s innovative skills combine Patachitra art on handmade paper, palm and wild grass to fashion wall hangings, cards, diaries and office organisers. His miniature Jagannath framed in ‘kanicho’ sticks on a scroll of handmade paper is eye-catching.
Says the artist, “I got an idea to make a diary out of palm leaves which go waste. I stitch them together and paint vignettes of tribal life as well as scenes from the epics. For the paints, I use natural dyes extracted from plants -- yellow from ‘gaintho’ leaves dipped in turmeric, pink from boiled fruit juice and green from leaves.”
The works of these two artisans are showcased at the Crafts Fair on at Sri Sankara Hall, TTK Road till December 2. Also on view are woodcrafts, Rajasthan silk paintings and brass sheet furniture, Etikopakka and Chennapatna toys and much more.