Madhya Pradesh has a mind-boggling array of arts and crafts, and it would take a dedicated explorer to study and appreciate them all. Bundelkhand, however, has two craft clusters that are both remarkable in different ways. One, which yields the soft shimmer of the regal Chanderi fabric, and other which produces sculptures in the glistening, glowing bell metal.
Day 1: Chanderi
Arrive in Chanderi. You will need some time to explore the beauties of this ancient town – the fort, the various palaces (Badal, Raja-Rani, Koshak Mahal), the Jama Masjid and the photogenic Kati Ghati. As you move about the town and the markets, you will see that there is hardly a door to any home that does not offer a glimpse of a loom inside. Barring the shopkeepers and a few other important businesses, almost every family in Chanderi weaves. There are reportedly 4,000 looms here and over 10,000-12,000 weavers.
The weave is ancient, and some reports date it to Vedic era. The fabric itself is special – a lightweight sheer texture that feels luxurious and has a regal fall. Woven with cotton, silk and zari, the cloth gains a gorgeous shimmer that distinguishes it. While every home has a loom, the conditions are somewhat cramped and dilapidated and keeping this in mind the authorities have created a facility called the Handloom Park. Set in a 10-acre campus just outside Chanderi, there are several building shere to help weavers create, improve and also market their wares.
What will strike you about the park is the spaciousness. These are large rooms, with plenty of air and sunlight. Weaver cooperatives or merchants are able to lease these spaces and work with all infrastructural support and facilities. It is wonderful to see weavers at work… thin threads of orange, pink and gold laid out as the tana (warp), and the beautiful patterns that emerge as the karigars (weavers) weave in the bana (weft). Even the half-finished saris would take your breath away. Some merchants have a selections stocked here if you want to buy some saris, stoles, dress materials and fabric.
Day 2: Orchha
On your way to Orchha, stop for few hours at Tikamgarh, a renowned centre for the fabulous craft of bell-metal casting. This ancient craft has been used in India for untold centuries, creating weaponry, temple bells, idols of deities, utensils and ornaments. In these parts, the owners of this handicraft are the Soni community, the goldsmith caste. The bell metal used is a form of bronze – an alloy of copper and tin with a higher proportion of tin than found in bronze usually.
The traditional method of lost wax casting is a labour-intensive one, and the process means that each product is absolutely unique to its creator. A heated mixture of industrial wax, groundnut oil and a binding resin called rar is the basic modelling material, which is sculpted and carved in fine detail. Once hardened, the wax is covered with a thin, fine layer of a local red soil and then with a thick paste of red mud and cow dung, and then with a mixture called bajari, which is sand and black soil. Two holes are created, one for the outflow of wax and one for pouring in the metal. The mix is then baked in a furnace. As the wax melts and flows out of one opening, molten metal is poured in to fill the space. Once cooled, the outer cover is broken to reveal the sculpted piece of art. This is finally cleaned up and polished. The whole process takes a minimum of ten days.
Today, the artisans of Tikamgarh are suffering from a crisis of faith. Very few artists still work on handcrafted pieces, and most of the wares in the shops on Rajmahal Road are from bulk-order dies. In a bylane off Rajmahal Road, brothers Omi Soni and Laxminarayan Soni still work the traditional way. But they are a dying breed. The art is rewarding but the circumstances are difficult. It is heartbreaking to hear Laxminarayan say, “I won’t let my son do this. There are many other ways to earn a living.”
Unless we, as a society, learn to value and revitalize our crafts before they die out, it is impossible for future generations to carry on with the traditions.
Where to stay
Kila Kothi, near Chanderi Fort, Rajghat Road, Chanderi
Tel: 7898528711, 9179111402
Tariff: AC rooms (INR2,990 Onwards); AC Deluxe rooms (INR3,290 Onwards)
Email: Kilakothai@mpstdc.com; Website: www.mpstdc.com/properties/mpt-kila-kothi-chanderi Weaves
There are weavers everywhere in Chanderi, with many shops clustered at markets near Badal Mahal gate.
Chanderi Lalitpur Bypass, Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 062601 97632
One can also checkout the website www.chanderiyaan.net, an e-commerce portal to showcase the
magic and beauty of Chanderi weaving. Supported by the Government of India, this is a one-stop
online shopping platform for Chanderi products.
Tikamgarh is best done as a day-trip or halt en route to Orchha.
Where to Stay
Betwa Retreat, Orchha Bypass Road, Orchha
Tariff: INR2,890 Onwards; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: 07680-252618
The bell-metal shops are clustered on Rajmahal Road, a narrow busy street in the main marketplace.
Every shop sells die-cast wares as well as a few handcrafted pieces. Do ask to be shown pieces made by the lost-wax process, if you want something unique and one-of-a-kind.
Rajmahal Road, Tikamrgarh 472001;
Dayaram Soni: 9993267997; email: email@example.com