Scent of a Heritage Craftsmanship

Many ancient arts in India are breathing their last today. One among them happens to be sandalwood craft.

The history of sandalwood carving goes back to many centuries, and a succession of ruling dynasties impressed with its qualities conferred on it a royal status. Such patronage ensured that the craft of sandalwood carving flourished and entire families took to this trade, living exclusively off it. The Jangid family from Churu, Rajasthan was deeply involved in this magical art since the Mughal era. Malchand Jangid was a master sandalwood craftsman who won the national award in 1971 and a special award the following year from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Fifteen years later he died leaving behind a wealth of the most delicate and exquisite carvings for posterity. He also ensured that his traditional skill as a sandalwood carver was passed on to his children and grandchildren. Generations after generations have successfully passed on the finesse and dedication required to pursue this difficult art form. Though sandalwood is no longer easily available, the skill has stayed alive in the Jangid family.

The artworks are a wonder to behold. The small sitar is a dedication to the 16th century music maestro Tansen and depicts some important scenes from his life history. The central chamber of the Sitar hosts a scene from the court of Akbar where Tansen is performing and the ‘Nratiki’ (Female dancer) is dancing. This 2’-6” long piece has intricate jali work and is over 35 years old.

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The fragrant sandalwood grows predominantly in Karnataka and is used extensively in puja and other religious rituals. The paste has cooling properties. The wood is so valuable that it is usually sold in grams. It has an even texture because of its close grains and fewer knots. The heart of the wood is most used and it has a fragrance that lasts years. The yellow/brown sandalwood grows darker with age after it is cut.

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The Rajasthan doll which is about 18” in height is a single block carving. It depicts a typical Rajasthan folk woman in its traditional attire. The ‘Chunadi’ or the veil is  joint less and very intricately carved. The entire doll hosts 15 beautiful scenes from the culture of Rajasthan. The doll depicts a variety of scenes from the life history of Maha Rana Pratap to general village scenes of Rajasthan to Dhola Maru (famous lovers of Rajasthan).

All carvings are carved into the sandalwood figure  and the doll took over an year of sustained work for the craftsman to complete it. This masterpiece is over 30 years old and is in remarkable condition.

The objects made of sandalwood are the most famous among the other wooden artifacts for its intricate carving and its sweet fragrance. Such things are considered to be the most expensive. Availability of sandalwood in abundance in the forests of Mysore and around has made this region the most flourishing for this trade. Besides Mysore; Tirupati, Madurai and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu; Churu district in Rajasthan was the other centre for this attractive workmanship. Today this art is a dying art with craftsmanship being limited to a mere shadow of its past. Also the lack of availability of quality sandalwood due to government ban on cutting of sandalwood tree has further negatively impacted this invaluable craft.

The ‘Katar’ (Sabre or dagger) is a traditional Indian weapon known to be used historically by some great rulers. This 2’ long exquisite sandalwood ‘Katar’ has a delicate jali carved all over it and is dedicated to Maha Rana Pratap, the 16th century Hindi Rajput ruler of Mewar. The important scenes depicted in the ‘Katar’ include the portrait of Maha Rana Pratap, Bhama Shah sacrificing all his wealth for Maha Rana pratap, the fight between Maha Rana Pratap and his younger brother Shakti Singh on a hunting trip and the fort of Chittor.

The Jangid family has been involved with the craft from the Mughal era. Although some family members have moved to other professions, a core group remains involved. In fact, the family boasts not less than seven national award winners.

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