Silver filigree, known as Tarakashi in the Odia language* is a jewelry making art in which thick silver strings are folded, heated, and woven into a single piece1 without involving casting in the process. Over hundred families in Cuttack in the state of Odisha are engaged in producing various patterns of filigree. Hence, the city is also known as Silver City. Cuttacki Tarakashi means “Filigree of Cuttack” due to its typical weblike motifs. It is an auspicious craft as it decorates the backdrops of Goddess Durga during the annual Hindu festival Durga Puja in October. Odisha filigree is different than any other filigree in India for its motifs, spider weblike patterns and the use of various handmade tools.
(*) An Indo-Aryan language spoken in the Indian state of Odisha.
The craft is believed to have been introduced in Odisha when the Mughals established their rule in India2. It involves a highly intricate process, elaboration, skilled craftsmanship, and creativity. Cuttack has a caste and hereditary-based system, and most of the skilled artisans come from the Bania community. The master artisans who craft with silver filigree are called Rupa Banias or Roupyakaras in Odia.
In Odisha, it is mostly traders who procure the silver from Kolkata and Mumbai. It is a community-based activity in which the crafting stages such as the making of the wires in various gauges, creating silver filigree pieces, and final polishing are accomplished by various small workshops in the city.
The silver bricks are melted into rods.
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Wire drawing machine.
Melted silver passes through the rollers of the machine to produce wires of various gauges.
Silver wires are burned and converted by silversmiths into finer wires.
For smaller filigree items such as jewelry and show pieces, the workshops where silversmiths work are often located behind the showrooms. The entire process—from twisting the silver wires to fashioning the product then cleaning and polishing the finished piece—is done under one roof. For larger pieces such as backdrops, segments are made separately then joined.2
Motif-driven pieces such as the lotus flower, peacock, sun, and even the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal, are made by the artisans who are in urgent need of their craft appreciation for their livelihood. Ornaments such as kohl holders, vermilion holders, nose rings, earrings, toe rings, anklets and bangles are the staple jewelry of every household in Odisha. It is regarded as a legacy to pass the tradition of gifting silver filigree jewelry to a newlywed daughter-in-law.
Silver filigree also takes the form of emblems and offerings in religious contexts and temples, such as the headgear of Lord Jgannath and Konark Chakra (Konark Temple’s wheel). It is also utilized to create ornaments for Oddisi dancers.
Tool used to twist the silver wires. The fine wires are passed to form zigzag patterns.
Other handmade tools utilized by local artisans to make silver filigree.
Different types of fillers and tweezers are used for smoothening and picking.
Dies used to convert silver pieces into various shapes and finer motifs.
Examples of die cuts that give shape to the silver wires.
Finer silver wires are manipulated by the silversmith.
Frames or farma are created from thicker wires. Thin fine wires are manipulated to fit precisely into the frames as inner details.
Individual pieces ready to be assembled.
The workshops are often in confined spaces. Because silver filigree requires fire and heat, most of its production transpires during the cold months of winter.
However, like many traditional crafts, silver filigree is endangered due to machine-made imitation pieces and their competitive pricing. Despite initiatives by government-led organizations to preserve this art form, factors such as lack of interest among the new generation due to its labor-intensive and time-consuming nature, increase in the cost of raw materials, low livelihood returns for artisans, and absence of strong community-based leadership put its continuity at risk.
Silver filigree is not only a craft of excellence and intricacies, it also serves to unify Hindu and Muslim community under a shared idea. It is the brightest of example of communal harmony in Cuttack. As witnessed in Mohmadiabazar, one of the epicenters of silver filigree, artisans of both communities work together for the Hindu festival, Durga Puja, which takes place next to a dargah (a shrine for Sufi saints). The beauty of silver filigree embodies the brotherhood, culture, and simple living of people in Cuttack.
An object ready for cleaning, polishing and drying.
The object is immersed in cold water. It is then sprinkled with silver dust to reinforce its strength and reimmersed in a solution of diluted acid.
It is then placed in a soapberry solution to be cleaned and polished using a brass-tipped tool (left) and brushes (right).
A hand sketched design of Chandi Medha. During Durga Puja, such silver filigree pieces form the background for the Durga idol.
1. Shreya Modi (2020). Tarakasi: The forgotten traditional jewellery of Odisha - Utkal Today. [online] Utkal Today. https://www.utkaltoday.com/tar...
2. Google Arts & Culture. (2011). Tarakasi: The Making of Silver Filigree - Dastkari Haat Samiti - Google Arts & Culture. artsandculture. google.com/exhibit/tarakasi-the-making-of-silver-filigree-dastkari-haat-samiti/NAJyVAl70Rj6LA?hl=en
Shivani Rath graduated from National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in 2019. Her interest in unraveling hidden crafts was initiated during her college days. Although Shivani had visited many crafts clusters in India, she felt a great affinity to silver filigree due to its perennial aura and charm. She has ambitions to pursue a Masters in Media and Fashion Communication in order to showcase endangered crafts and to advocate for sustainability.
Dastkari Haat Samiti is a national association of crafts people with members from all states of India. It is a not-for-profit organization that functions according to democratic procedures and self- help principles. Founded by Jaya Jaitly, it works with artisans at a grassroots level to uphold craft heritage and sustain livelihoods, through interactive annual bazaars and exhibitions. It functions independently through grants for its general activities; contributions made by its members for its administrative work; and support from public-spirited people for its basic infrastructural needs.
Special thanks from:
Shivani Rath to Surendra Behera for his interest and patience during the interviews conducted in his workshop.
Dastkari Haat Samiti to Google Art and Culture for their partnership on this documentation project.
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