ARTISTRY Two artisans showcase almost forgotten craft traditions of Rajasthan and Odisha. PUSHPA CHARI

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 beautifully for both the tagari and surahi. Etched, incised, embossed, painted and criss-crossed with delicate patterns by generations of ironsmiths and artisans, the tagari and surahi speak 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 here and there in village homes.

Hari Narayana Sharma is an artisan who has re-invented 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 shape and 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 knock it to the desired shape by driving huge specially crafted nails. Painting and embossing work are done by the women who use ‘mehndi’ cones for embossing. The designs are free hand so no two pieces look alike.”

Odisha’s Suryakant Mohapatra , a traditional Patachitra and palm leaf painter, makes detailed and nuanced portraits inspired by Lord Jagannath as well as Krishna Leela themes and vignettes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Son of the National Award winning palm leaf mastercraftman Baikuntha Mohapatra, Suryakant’s skills are translated into wall hangings, cards, diaries and office organisers crafted out of handmade paper, palm and wild grass. His miniature Jagannath framed in ‘kanicho’ sticks on a scroll of handmade paper is eye-catching.

Says the artist, “I have made a diary out of the 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 woodcraft, Rajasthan silk paintings and brass sheet furniture, Etikopakka and Chennapatna toys and much more.