Bhubaneswar is called the ‘city of the temple’ because of countless temples in it, the erstwhile capital of Odisha “Kataka” that is recognized as Cuttack is famous globally as ‘the silver city’ due to its oldest filigree manufacturing industry called “Tarakasi” in Odia. The land of Cuttack is not just famous for the forts and stadium but its uniqueness lies because the two religions - Hindu and Muslim live together.
Like Meenakari and Kundan designs on jewellery, the elegance of the filigree design is rich on the web-like pattern of silver lace. Filigree is a 500-year-old highly skilled art form which is also an ancient religious identity of Odisha. Filigree is the delicate kind of craftwork where the silver strings are modified in a shape of jewelry, models, and showpieces as well. According to Wikipedia, it originated in Mesopotamia, Egypt and spread to Asia around 2500 BC because of the trade relations between the countries. The patterns of the Indian and the Greek filigree crafts is the evidence of similarity in contemporary and said to have a common influence.
The artists involved with this filigree work are called “Rupa Banias” or “Roupyakaras” (in Odia). They are actually highly mastered traditional goldsmiths in which some of them have their family business, some are self-employed or some do it as casual workers. Since the beginning, the filigree work of Cuttack is caste and hereditary based. Currently, the Bania caste is mostly engaged in this work and few from the fisherman community are also seen to be doing this job for the sake of breadwinning.
There are three types of famous filigree works i.e. rose work, siko work, and jari work. The craftsmen manufacture the silver webs though their hands and some metal bending tools. The process of manufacturing filigree is very peculiar in nature. This work is not done through carvings, rather it is done by bending and joining the thin hair like silver wires bit by bit. As it is made on the basis of demand, the designs are first drafted on a piece of paper. With the thick silver wires, the design is fixed on it as an outline that becomes a raw design. After finishing up with the boundary of the design, the hair like thin silver wires is moulded and joined through the heat of the fire. For the final touch, the final design is dipped into the diluted sodium oxide for the cleaning purpose.
Silver filigree work at Chaudhury Bazar Durga Puja pandal Cuttack (Google)
The forms of miniature animals, birds, flowers, even handbags are made through the filigree works. The eye-catching models of Lord Jagannath, Konark chakra, bicycle, and peacock, Taj Mahal, and Effile tower made up of silver filigree are in great demand. In Odisha, the stress is given on making jewellery like armlets, necklaces, anklets, etc. are quite famous. The jewellery of Odissi dancers include the armlets made up of silver filigree work and the Odia brides are said to be incomplete without the tarakasi toe rings and anklets as they are considered auspicious.
The earlier documents say, the filigree work received great blow up during the Mughal times but now it is suffering due to lack of initiatives, market facilities, and its values. This ancient art is dying. In present Cuttack, you will find more than a hundred families engaged with the tarakasi craft.
A man works on the silver strings
Bending and folding of silver strings
Joining the metals through the heat of the fire
Shrikant Sahoo, a 52-year-old filigree artist of Cuttack owns a workshop in Cuttack. Through this job, he earns Rs. 30,000 approx. per month and pays his labourer Rs. 6000 per month depending upon the profit. They get the orders from the districts such as Dhenkanal and Jagatsinghpur of Odisha where filigree art is in great demand. They have to work for day and night on each art piece. Often, this trade fetches them lower income in relation to the time they spend. Consequently, they don’t want to teach their children this art form. This has become one of the biggest reason for the slow death of tarakasi - the ancient identity of Odisha. It’s not only important to save the silver heritage of Odisha but also to bring up and encourage the aspiring handy people that make this art.
(Special thanks to Aishwarya for the pictures from Cuttack)