Let me admit. I have seen colorful Meenakari jewelry of Rajasthan, my mother possesses some of them. But my knowledge of this art is limited, mostly, to colors … golden, green and red. Similarly, I had seen Usta Art of Bikaner but knew nothing about it! Not even the proper name.
So when I saw it live, I was quite impressed by its colorful intricate designs. I thought of buying one, but when I heard the price, I was content with only looking and admiring those art pieces. Even one small piece of Usta Art work can cause a big hole in your pocket.
So what it is, which makes this art so expensive?
Is it the gold used in making? Or the time taken or the laborious effort that goes into making a piece? It is actually combination of all!
History of Usta Art Bikaner
Usta art is a generic term used for Naqqashi and Manoti art practiced by Usta artisans from the Bikaner district of Rajasthan.
The term “USTAD” is derived from Persian word ‘USTAD’ meaning master. During the period of Mughal Emperor Akbar, a group of Usta artists from Iran came to Bikaner to execute design work at the famous Junagarh fort of Bikaner. Even today some of its palaces like Anup mahal, Phool mahal and karan mahal showcase the craftsmanship and skills of those artists. Another version says, the name has come from a Muslim community called Usta which were associated with this art form.
The various motifs that are used in Usta art, are influenced by Mughal designs. Earlier this form of gold emboss work was done mostly on walls and ceilings but during British period it was felt that it should also be done on a material which is light and easy to carry.
Hence, glass, wood, marble and camel hide came into picture and now they are the most popular bases to work upon. It’s a real treat to our eyes if it’s made on a white base such as ivory or marble. The brush used is made of squirrel hair.
Ajmal Hussain Usta
When we got a chance to meet a Usta artist Ajmal Hussain Usta, we were enlightened to know a lot more about this art. Ajmal Hussain Usta has been working on this art since his childhood and acquired the skills from his father. This art has passed and survived several generations but in today’s fast life, it has started to diminish. Thankfully, with some intervention and efforts by the government, people have started taking interest in it.
Ajmal Hussain Usta showed us a book which is a collection of pictures of his works. He also showed us the tools that he uses. When he explained the procedure for it, I realized how much time & effort goes into it.
Golden Munawwati Nakkashi work or gold emboss work is completed in many stages or steps.
Steps for making an Usta Art piece
1) The base surface is smoothened and is prepared by applying natural primer.
2) The surface is then tightened and fixed and the basic outlines of the design is drawn.
3) First, they color the edges or the outlines as the case may be. It is followed by filling in the colour with brush.
4) Once dried, the floral design is embossed by using a paste made of pot clay powder, gum, jaggery and naushadar. Usta was hesitant to tell about ingredients of this paste but I could find it on internet. 🙂
5) On this embossed design, two coats of yellow paint are applied.
6) Again when it is dried, the gold foils are applied and details of emboss are drawn.
It looks like an easy job but no, it’s a very time consuming work.
Ajmal Hussain Usta has created excellent pieces of art displayed on camel hide, stone and metal. They can also be seen in temples and several monuments of Bikaner.
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