The city of Jaipur was planned in a way that different types of craftsmen, such as woodworkers, jewelers, and textile craftsmen, lived in separate mohallas or small neighborhoods. While roaming in the markets of Jaipur, you will find many such mohallas. There will be a place where you will start hearing sweet tinkling sounds. This is the lane, namely Maniharon ka Rasta, where lac bangles artisans reside. Let’s go back to the history of lac bangles and see what makes them very unique.
HISTORY OF LAC
Lac is mentioned in numerous ancient scripts including Mahabharata and Vedas. You might have heard about the Lakshagraha mentioned in one of the legends of Mahabharata. As per the texts mentioned in Mahabharata, Duryodhana commissioned an architect to construct an edifice where the five Pandavas can be killed. The brothers were supposed to be confined inside the house after it was set on fire. Since lac is highly flammable, the architect designed a lac house, known as Lakshagraha. However, Pandavas were made aware of this scheme, and an escape route was prepared for them.
Not only in Mahabharata but also Atharva Veda, there is a brief reference to the Lac insect, its habitat, and its usefulness. Lac is a valuable natural substance that is useful in the culinary, furniture, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical sectors. The Vedas also mention the Laksha Taru or Tree of Lac.
You might have noticed that lac bangles are given as gifts to brides and married women. There is an interesting script highlighting the significance of this ritual. Lakhera, a community of lac bangle makers, made lac bangles for the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. Lord Shiva gifted these bangles to Parvati as a token of marriage.
WHEN MANIHARS MET RAJASTHAN
If you have ever visited the old and narrow markets of Jaipur, you might have come across Maniharon ka Rasta in Tripolia Bazar. There is no chance that you were not amused by the beautiful bangles in Bazar. The bangles crafted here are handmade and made of lac. Maniharon ka Rasta is home to the Manihars, a local community that manufactures lac bangles.
Ever wondered how this ancient art traveled to Rajasthan? Lac bangle artistry in India dates back to the time of Jaipur’s King Jay Singh. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II invited Manihars during the days when he was shifting his capital to a pink city.
The word Manihar is a Sanskrit word – ‘Mani’ which means ‘jewel’ or ‘precious stone’. The Manihar community is across the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. They are also known by the names of Saudagar or Shisghar. Local women of Rajasthan appreciated and liked the art very much.
The colorful and attractive lac bangles became much prevalent that Manihars decided to shift their professional base to Jaipur. Since then, these bangles have been winning the hearts of Rajasthani women.
THE MAKING OF LAC
Atharva Veda mentions the whole process of manufacturing lac. In India, an insect called Kerria lacca or ‘Lac insect’ produces lac, and trees like Dhak, Ber, and Kusum are hosts for lac insects. The best thing about manufacturing lac bangles is that it’s completely handmade. The techniques are the same across centuries. To date, the whole process is machine-free. The process begins by collecting lac from the trees.
Some plant-sucking, crimson-red colored insects such as Laccifer lacca, Carteria lacca, and Tachardia lacca invade the branches of chosen host trees and secretes Lac, a natural scarlet resin. These secretions form small beads on the branches of host trees. To eliminate impurities and obtain long sticks of lac, it is scraped off, crushed, sieved, and washed many times. These long sticks of lac – sticklacs are processed and refined to extract lac. The lac is then refined and the end product, called shellac, is obtained.
JOURNEY FROM LAC INSECT TO LAC BANGLES
The artisans buy this shellac in form of small, flat discs called chapadi or tikli. The bangle makers add wax to improve cohesiveness and titanium to increase volume. These chapadis form the main component of lac bangles. They are generally available in two colors, deep reddish-brown, and ochre yellow. To make the final mixture, the artisans add two of the main components to lac. A resin – berja adds softness to lac. Another important component added is giya powder.
- In a large kadhai, artisans add Chapadi and berja and water to the mixture. After the lac melts, they add giya powder. They combine together and forms a thick lump.
- Then, this mixture molds well and forms coils. Hati, a wooden rod connects to the coil.
- Then, the craftsmen heat the lac over burning coals also referred to as sigdi. This procedure softens and softens the lac, making it easier to shape.
- Blocks of lac are used to color bangles. The blocks are also joined together with the help of wooden rods.
- They are heated over the sigdi before being put to the lac.
- Using different colors, the artists create different patterns and designs.
- The slicing of the coil into little pieces gives them the shape of bangles. The colorful coil is pounded using a wooden tool called Khali, which has a groove in it.
- The coil conforms to the small groove. And this loop is again baked over sigdi. Then, the artisans use the wooden mandrel to get the coil in different sizes.
It is rubbed and polished with the help of a soft cloth. After this whole process of 6-7 hours, artisans give birth to a dozen colorful, tinkling bangles.
- Lac bangles are a sign of a good omen. So, married women wear them on all auspicious occasions.
- Lac bangles are available in many different colors. Different colors have different significances. The red color brings energy and prosperity, while green is good for fertility and new life.
- Yellow plays a vital part in bringing happiness and orange brings success.
- Gold brings prosperity and good luck, while silver for strength and peace of mind.
- There is another interesting fact about bangles. According to Ayurveda, bangles provide energy to the body, especially bones. Therefore, right from ancient times, women used to wear bangles, as bangles have a positive impact on wrist bones, which usually becomes weaker as a woman ages.
- Bangles are a part of Indian culture and traditions. Bangles are one of the sixteen decorations (Solah Shringar).
- Rajasthani brides wear lac choodas. The designer lac choodas with stones and studs on the top to make them more attractive.
- Some men wear a single bangle on the arm or wrist called Kada. In Sikhism, the father of a Sikh bride will give the groom a gold ring, a Kada (steel or iron bangle), and a mohra.
RECOGNITION AND SALES
The craftsmen claimed that the raw materials used are the main thing that makes these bangles unique. Lac is a natural material and artists do not use any chemicals in their work. This is the reason why these bangles attract both the locals as well as the national and international tourists who visit this wonderful city every year. Lac bangles are an expression of happiness and brightness for the brides. Even in the festivals like Gangaur and Teej, husbands gift leheriya as well as lac bangles to their wives.
Though in recent times, due to many circumstances, bangle sales have decreased tremendously. Climate change and deforestation have been major challenges. Due to deforestation, there is difficulty in finding raw materials. This increases the price of raw materials increasing the price of the final product. Another such reason is that the young generation has stopped practicing the art of lac bangle making because of very few business opportunities.
To promote this special art and craft of India many organizations as well as started campaigns. Nowadays, many platforms are available for artists to showcase their art. You can buy these extraordinary bangles and many similar products at Clios Heritage Store.
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