A walking tour through Jaipur's famous Thatheron ka Raasta | Milaap

A walking tour through Jaipur's famous Thatheron ka Raasta

Jaipur, or the pink city as is it named as, is far more than the forts and palaces it possesses. Witnessing the grandeur and magnificence of these structures is, well, a part of experiencing the exquisiteness of the state. And while vacationing in the Land of Kings, which is the literal translation of Rajasthan, it is what most tourists look forward to. However, if one manages to look beyond its splendidness, and rather look for simplicity in the mundane, it is in the narrow lanes and gallis of this old walled city where stories of history, art and culture, intertwined like the numerous overhead wires above you, still linger.

Since one of the best ways to experience the pulse of any city is by walking through its lanes, I decided to go on a walking tour, which covered one of the most visited gallis/raastas of Jaipur – Thatheron ka raasta. And to get there, was another picturesque walking tour in its own right – the old coexisting with the new.  
You know you’re approaching the lane, when you start to hear the incessant sound of beating the metal - Tha Tha Tha. One of the oldest crafts being practiced since generations, the thatheras, as they are called, were settled in the city in this very lane by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II and were highly patronized by the King. Their traditional work involved making household utensils in copper and brass for the local people and expensive silver vessels for the royals.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Govindji working in his work station

                                                                                               The kiln used to join two pieces of metal

Though they are spread throughout many regions of Rajasthan, this lane, specially dedicated to these Thatheras is very famous. Being related to one another, these families have their work divided into who does what so that no further familial dispute takes place. Usually obtaining flattened sheets of metal, these artisans beat the sheets to convert them into different utensils like degchies, paraats, charis using tools like hammers and wooden mallets.  

                                                     The hammers used for beating the metal

As I walked around observing these men working on the metal to give it shape and design, the most obvious question popped into my mind. How long will this traditional craft survive given the times? Vijender, who was considerably younger than most artisans I saw, had completed Std. 10, gave up his further education and joined his father full time in this business. When I asked him if he wanted to do this or he was coerced to, his father immediately replied, karigar apni puraani kalkaari ko aage nahi badhayenge, toh kaun badhaayega? (If an artisan won’t continue his age-old profession, then who will?) While there was so much truth in his words, these heritage crafts have to be protected; but the truth is they are dying out.
Rajendra Kumar, a 57-year-old, has been practising this art since his childhood. He makes traditional household vessels and earns just INR 200 per day. My work is seasonal, he says, the orders come during weddings, or special occasions and festivals, where traditional vessels have to be used. Most of the work I get nowadays is to repair broken vessels. Surviving on such an income is impossible and he often has to resort to other work to generate a decent living.

                                                                          A small sized lota

Some of the other thatheras have diversified their work to sustain and have reinvented it to go with today’s times. For example, they take some special orders to make items which sell well in the tourist/antique industry. Some even use some form of machinery to aid them in their work. Apart from that, you can see them working on temple shikhars or the traditional vessel kalash, which is a metal pot used during Hindu rituals.

The families that were previously involved in this art have considerably reduced. They have all settled in different parts of Rajasthan and have started different businesses. Yash Dev, belongs to this community of metal tinkerers, was kind enough to speak to me amidst all the noise. He does not follow this art, but his brothers do. My kids are still small and are studying; this work cannot pay for their education. Constantly emphasizing how everything has a time and place, he tells me, we also have to adapt to the changing world. The children in our family have studied. My nephew is an engineer and prefers selling antique pieces online rather than making them.                                                      Vijenderji showing me a mini gangajal                                                  

He then goes on to tell me the stories of how his one of his ancestors, was close to the King and the amount of respect they commanded during that era. One of the oldest and fondest things he possesses is a huge silver pyala that was made by his great grandfather. He also spoke about the importance of copper as a metal and utensil, which was used to store water and other food items. The advent of steel ruined our business because it is cheaper and easier to clean, he says.
With limited effort from the Govt. to preserve this art form, it is dying a slow death. While their counterparts, the thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab, have got a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status and support from their home government, we have received nothing but OBC status, he says.

As I walk out of Mr Yash’s home, his words ring true in my head. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, had settled my forefathers in this place, in the outskirts of the city, because we made too much noise, but surprisingly this lane now lies in the heart of Jaipur. We were widely acknowledged then but, now, becoming a part of the hustle and bustle of the city, are noises are drowned in this noise of this city.