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Adding glamour

Delicate work: On the marble at The Taj Mahal. Photo: Special Arrangement

Delicate work: On the marble at The Taj Mahal. Photo: Special Arrangement  

The Taj Mahal in Agra is perhaps the most elegant and beautiful example of inlay work.

There is no doubt that wood has a beautiful texture, but when the craftsperson adds design to it, the result is exquisite. One form of this ornamentation is called inlay work. It means the setting of other materials on wood to enhance its looks. Karnataka boasts of rosewood with inlays of ivory, and some of the finest examples may be seen in the Srirangapatna mausoleum in Karnataka. The Amba Vilas Palace in Mysore also has beautiful examples of inlay work.

Various options

A paper tracing is made of the design of the inlay work, and pasted on cardboard and templates made. This is marked on the surface that is going to be inlaid, and the area scooped to provide place for the other medium to fit in. Inlays could be of ivory, bone, or horn. To reduce cost, inlays are cut out of wood of a different colour, and even plastic. The inlay material once defined in shape and design are cut with a saw or any other sharp implement. The inlay which comprises several pieces are fitted into them.

Only superior wood is used and one which can sustain hammering and chiselling, usually teak, rosewood or white cedar. Punjab specialises in wood inlay. For the market, utility items are produced like jewel boxes, teapoys, screens or bowls. The designs are usually geometrical — diamonds, squares or floral motifs.

Bhavnagar in Gujarat is famous for its large chests called pataras, which is given to the bride to pack her trousseau. The boxes have eight secret drawers for valuables. Wood inlay is a speciality of Bihar, and the inlay is done with metal, ivory, stag horn and clips of wood for a varied effect. Since the use of ivory is banned it is not used today. Patna also produces utility objects like trays, boxes and other household articles. In Kerala, brass, in the form of strips or knobs, is used to embellish the wood.

One of the finest examples of inlay is that done on marble. Visit Jaipur and you see wall plaques, boxes and other objects for sale anywhere. What better glory of inlay can you experience other than the Taj Mahal, where the inlay work looks like jewellery, and you can feast on the sight for hours.

At the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi the inlay work on marble, with so many colours is beautifully blended to create stunning effects similar to the work on the Taj Mahal. A difference, though, the work on the Taj was handcrafted, whereas technology has helped speed the process without compromising on the finish or the beauty. The cutting of the inlay is done with water jet machines!

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 1:38:52 AM |

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