A pantheon of craftsmen and their art are on display at Kaivalam, under way in Chennai. Rashmi R.D. introduces us to some Living Legends of Indian crafts. Meet Arroju Ashok

“There have been silversmiths making silver jewellery in this form in Karim Nagar for the last 400 years,” says Ashok in his soft, quiet voice.

Karim Nagar is about 160 kilometers from Hyderabad and is famed for its silversmiths. Silver bars are melted to make thin silver wire. The pattern of the ornament is traced on paper to give the craftsman a sort of blueprint for the piece; this also helps to gauge size. First the ‘outer pattern’ is created. The extremely fine silver wire is carefully twisted by hand to form delicate flowers, trees, birds, animals, leaves, paisleys or just abstract patterns of loops in intricate arabesques. The space between the twists and whorls of the wire are so fine that a finished piece of jewellery looks like spun metal lace. These manipulated twists of wire are then carefully soldered without disrupting the filigree quality of the piece. Sometimes the minute gaps are filled with semi- precious, natural stones.

“I make pendants, chains, earrings, bangles, supari plates and jewellery boxes. I sell what I make to jewellery show rooms and to handicraft shops. I do work on assignment as well. I sometimes get special orders.”

Ashok mentions that there some fine antique pieces of filigree jewellery on display at the famed Salarjung Museum in Hyderabad. He speculates that the Nawabs were the foremost patrons of this craft form.

“There are about 200 silversmiths in Karim Nagar who do specialized filigree work. We have our problems, but I am happy with what I do. About what lies ahead? Well, I am training young people in this craft; it’s up to them to take it forward. I tell them they must keep innovating with new designs. You must keep learning and experimenting.”

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