Banaras : The Beginning
Situated on the holy banks of River Ganga in Uttar Pradesh, Banaras is India’s spiritual and cultural capital. Banaras is bounded by rivers Varuna and Assi on either side, giving the city its current name ‘Varanasi’. It is also popularly known as ‘the city of lights’. Varanasi is known for its numerous ghats, each of which is soaked in cultural essence of its patron. Ghats are embankments made along the river where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions.
The city’s oldest residents: both Ganga and Banarasi craftsmen bestow it with a rich heritage. It is intriguing to see the balance that Banaras strikes between its cultural heritage and the contemporary world. The city is famous for its legacy of art such as carpet weaving, wooden toys, glass bangles, artistic brass and copper ware and a wide range of handicrafts and, on the other hand also prides itself over its gradual development. Tradition overpowers the city’s landscape when we see Sadhus draped in saffron-colored cloth, evening Aarti lighting up the ghats and artistic wall paintings while strolling in small streets. The various paintings on outside walls of homes and shops contribute immensely to the artistic environment in Varanasi. This environment builds a stage not only for the artisans but also for the tourists who are enticed by the rich beauty of the wooden toys.
Wood turning and carving is a specialty of this city. Sindora- a traditional container for vermilion used by brides to apply vermilion on their forehead- is one of the oldest and most used articles made by wood turning. Wooden handicrafts especially toys are a unique range of products manufactured in Varanasi. According to the artisans, their ancestors specialized in ivory carving but due to the ban on ivory by the Government of India, they shifted to wood carving. Eucalyptus wood is the most commonly used raw material for the same. Eucalyptus wood is locally available to these artisans.
Banarasi artisans practice wood turning and lacquering to create a product with their adept hands. These processes are performed on a lathe. Lacquering involves friction application and providing a surface finish. The finished products are completely natural, polished and colored with lacquer made out of organic resin. Each of these products is distinctive owing to the emotions and skill of its artisan.
If we look closely, we can see how Banaras inspired its crafts. The vermilion coat of lacquer on a toy seems to be an extension of a Sadhu’s saffron drape. These vivid colors please our eyes when we take a glance at this pious city. The bright red saree of a woman seems to inspire the graceful doll covered in red lacquer.
This sanctuary of cultural art and tradition rests on the shoulders of this generation as much as it anchors to the banks of mighty Ganga. To safeguard and promote our cultural heritage is our duty. Banaras has given us a beginning, let us bring this treasure to new heights by striving to create a better space for artisans.