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Tarakasi: The forgotten traditional jewellery of Odisha

Tarakasi the work of silver, the thick and silver strings we're folded, heated, weaved and molded into a piece of single exotic jewelry. Bhubaneswar is called the 'city of the temple' because of countless temples in it. The former capital of Odisha "Kataka" which is recognized as Cuttak and it is famous globally as 'the silver city' because of its oldest Filigree manufacturing industry called 'Tarakasi' in Odia...

The history of jewellery in India is, to large extent, the history of the country itself. Where an ancient traditional identity of Odisha is Tarakasi.

Tarakasi– Work of silver, the thick and silver strings we’re folded, heated, weaved and molded into a piece of single exotic jewellery. Bhubaneswar is called the ‘city of the temple’ because of countless temples in it. The former capital of Odisha “Kataka” which is recognized as Cuttak and it is famous globally as ‘the silver city’ because of its oldest Filigree manufacturing industry called ‘Tarakasi’ in Odia. Like Meenakari and Kundan designs on jewelry, the beauty of the filigree design is rich on the web-like patterns of silver lace. Filigree is an ancient religious identity of Odisha and it is 500-year-old highly skilled art form. Filigree is an exquisite kind of craft work where the silver strings are alter in a shape of jewellery, models and showpieces as well.

Rupa Banias

The artists who are involved to make this filigree work are called “Rupa Banias” or “Roupyakaras” (in odia). They are highly mastered in traditional goldsmiths where some of them have their family business, some are self-employed or some do it as casual workers. From beginning the filigree work of Cuttack is caste & hereditary based. Most of the Bania Caste is engaged in this work and few from the fishermen community are also seen to be doing this job for the purpose of breadwinning.

Some of the work is done through carvings, but filigree is done by bending and joining the thin hair like silver wires bit by bit. The designs are made on the basis of demand, they are first drafted on a piece of paper. To make a raw design, the designs is fixed on it as an outline with the thick silver wires. The hair with the thin silver wires is molded and joined through the heat of the fire and finish it with the boundary of the design. And lastly it is dipped into the diluted sodium oxide for the cleaning purpose to give the final touch. The formation of flowers, birds, animals and even handbags are made through the filigree works. In Odisha, the most demanding jewelry are necklaces, armlets and anklets. The eye-catching models of Lord Jagannath, Konark chakra, bicycle and peacock, Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower are made up of silver filigree are in great demand.

Ancient art

In the Mughal times, the filigree work received a great blow up but now it is suffering due to lack of initiatives, its market facilities and values. The traditional ancient art is dying. In Cuttack more than a hundred families engaged with the Tarakasi craft. Odissi dancers wears jewellery like armlets which is made up of silver filigree work. Tarakasi is considered as very auspicious jewellery, Odia brides are said to be incomplete without the Tarakasi toe rings and anklets. In Cuttack, the filigree laborer are paid Rs 6000 per month depending upon the profit of workshop. Workshops earns about Rs 30000 per month through this job.

People give the orders from the several districts like Jagatsinghpur and Dhenkanal of Odisha where filigree art is in great demand. They have to work for day and night on each art piece. This business get them lower income in relation to the time they spend. As they say, they don’t want to teach their generation this art form and this has become one of the biggest reason for the slow death of Tarakasi, the ancient identity of Odisha. Lack of interest among the new generation because of its labor intensive and time consuming nature, increase in the cost of raw material, poor returns to the artisans and absence of a strong community based leadership. It is so important to encourage the aspiring handy people that make this art and to save the silver legacy of Odisha.

Archaeological proofs suggest that filigree was incorporated into jewellery as early as 3500 BCE in Mesopotamia where it is practical even today as Telkari work. As history says, there is every possibility that the Tarakasi work reached Cuttack from Persia through Indonesia some 500 years ago by sea trade. Cuttack and Indonesia’s argument based on similar workmanship. In the Mughal Era, the craft received royal funding and today Cuttack Tarakasi is world renowned for its delicate artistry and excellent craftsmanship.

Spider web work

This traditional fine spider web work is the main attraction of Cuttack Tarakasi. And Rose flower is one of the main elements in its repertoire of design motifs. One rose takes about three to four hours to make. Beside Jewellery, creative art works portraying iconic monuments of Odisha. In recent years a number of contemporary themes, such as chariots, currency notes, rickshaws, and bicycles and so on are also seen in the market. Artisans who are mostly goldsmith work with 90℅ silver alloy. Tarakasi involves a number of steps. A lump of silver is placed on a small clay pot over a bucket full of charcoal. Hand operated stuffs is used to regulate the temperature. It takes about 10 minutes to melt the silver lump. The molten silver is then poured into a rod shaped mud which is further put in water for cooling. To make a thin silver wires from the rod they use machines. Then wires are carved into a number of complex designs, which are first drawn on paper. For the process of soldering, thick silver wires are used as frames into which thin wires are embedded. There are 90 types of wire designs of spirals and curls, creepers and jaalis.

Spider Web Work

In the early 20th century, due to the lack of patronage, tarakasi work of Cuttack had almost vanished. In 1962, former CM of Odisha Biju patnaik established the Kalinga Filigree cooperative society to help local tarakasi artisans. And today there are about 400 artisans in cutback working but the craft is in danger due to a number of factors, such as competition from Kolkata, which produces coarse but affordable silver filigree items. Of all the handicrafts of Odisha, silver filigree is the most unique and finest is locally called Tarakasi. In this process it consists drawing of silver through a series of consecutively smaller holes to produce fire strands of wire. Vermillion boxes, brooches, pendants, earrings and hairpins are in great demand. Vermillion box is must in any Odia marriage. In cutback, Odisha, Diwali is popularly celebrated as kali puja, where kali idols were adorned with elaborate silver frames (medha) famously known as the filigree work or Tarakasi. Quintals of silver have been used all over the city for kali idols.

Also read : The Art of Pattachitra is still alive in Puri, Odisha

The beauty of jewellery is so fascinating that it immediately draws one’s attention from every distraction. Its inexpensiveness can be easily afforded by all. A visit to Odisha is never complete without checking out the filigree items and owning one.

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