The ancient repoussé craft, considered to be even older than the Banarasi Silk handloom industry has flourished in the heritage city of Varanasi since the Vedic times. Traditional artisans use the repoussé technique to make faces of gods and goddesses, gold and silver dresses, traditional ornaments, doors, wall decorations in Temples and unique gold and silver utensils.
One of the most famous examples of metal repoussé craft is the golden spire of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Historical records say that this art was perfected in the Vedic era and continued to thrive in the Ramayana and Mahabharat period. Metal figures have been unearthed at archaeological excavations in Harappa and Mohenjo-daro.
Repoussé is an extremely innovative technique that offers diversity of expression and creativity. The technique involves a malleable metal that can be ornamented or shaped by hammering from the reverse side with a raised design getting formed in the front. This technique is economical as well as it allows maximum usage of the metal and its plasticity. This technique is referred to as embossing (Khal – Ubhar Ka Kam) or ‘chasing’ and secrets of this age-old craft has been preserved by the Kasera community for generations. This is completely handmade using traditional tools.
First, drawings of both traditional and modern patterns and designs are made by hand on paper. The metal sheet (gold, silver, copper, brass and white metal) from 18 to 26 gauge thickness is prepared and cut. The metal sheet is filled with lac and the design is transferred using traditional small tools. The paper design is removed and embossing work begins with the side which has to be depressed beaten down. The lac is then heated and melted.
The sheet is reversed and sections to be raised in the finished design are beaten outwards. The process is repeated 3 – 4 times so that all the details are incorporated. The product is washed in acid through an old method of cleaning. The artisan inspects the final work for quality and finishing.
This process is time-consuming but as one continuous metal surface of uniform thickness is used, the quality of the final product is excellent. Even heavy repoussé work on thin metal sheets has intricately detailed motifs, designs, figures, symbols, flowers and patterns. The stunning creations of doors, wall plates, religious embellishments, utensils, cultural symbols and figurines are in great demand in all places of worship in and around Varanasi as well as across India.
Records indicate that over 500 families are engaged in the production of these exquisite products. Banaras metal repoussé craft was awarded the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2016.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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