Ustads of Usta Art Bikaner


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.

The Usta Work

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 art bikaner @lemonicks
Ajmal Hussain Ustad with his prized possession

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.

The tools used for this art.

Golden Munawwati Nakkashi work or gold emboss work is completed in many stages or steps.

Steps for making an Usta Art piece

This is that secret paste 😀

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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40 thoughts on “Ustads of Usta Art Bikaner

  1. Things like this make it really easy to understand the resurgence of artisanal goods. Yes, everything artisanal gets branded as “hipster,” but it’s really a way of appreciating the work of real people after a generation that prized everything that came out of a factory or a laboratory. I’m sure you can buy a knockoff usta piece in a Walmart somewhere, but it hardly compares to the real thing.

  2. The first thing that caught my attention were the colors! I just love how the people of Rajasthan embrace colors in everything. Never knew about another art of Rajasthan. Hope Usta is preserved for many generations. It reminded me of my visit to Joothi maker’s home in Jodhpur, where I had a similar opportunity to witness the making of art. Thanks for sharing Nisha ji! 🙂

    1. So true !

      I wish more and more people try to save all these art forms.

      Have you written about Joothi maker’s story? Would like to read it.

  3. Wow ! Beautiful information ! I have read initially about it from the post of Indrani Ghosh and now you are giving final finishing to this beautiful and amazing art culture of India. Very well written post Nisha ji

  4. Quite a laborious process but so worth it at the end. I hope there is something done to keep this art for m alive. It was fun reading through the history and the whole process of this lovely art.

  5. I love learning about the history of art and art styles. I love the bowl with the peacock in it. However, they’re al so lovely. You can tell a lot of love and work went into them.

  6. This art is so beautiful. I really enjoyed seeing your pictures and reading the steps behind how it is made. I can see why the work is so expensive both because of the time involved and the expense of the materials.

  7. This is such a beautiful art. The Usta art is delicate and the designs are intricate, the details are amazing. They are so beautiful that you just can’t look away from them. These artists should be given recognition and such an art form should be preserved.

  8. Wow! Beautiful art handcrafts! The colours are so vibrant and you can see the details are beautifully crafted. Thank you for sharing his story. Its important to keep an artist like him raise in the modern world.

  9. I commend his hands for being creative and patient. As I started to read your blog, I got a hint that the masterpiece must be pricey and I was right. But I think that the price is just right compared to all the hardships it required just for it to be finished.

  10. It looks so impressive! Always been a huge admirer of hand crafts and I’m always stunned by the beauty man is capable of making. Beautiful items and such a gorgeous pattern! 🙂

  11. It’s so interesting to know about the history of Usta Art Bikaner the steps of making it.It is really a masterpiece.It really shows that it is not easy to do it and it takes someone who has patience and skill to achieve this great masterpiece!

  12. This is hell of a great art! I never heard about this part of India first. how far is this place from Delhi? Because i am traveling to delhi next month and i hope if this place can be visited from delhi then i would love to do it. Thanks for this writeup! gave me a great place to add in my list. Cheers!

  13. I like how you are so honest in the beginning about colors- hehe. Also that’s amazing your mom has some of this jewelry. It’s really beautiful. Thanks for sharing the history and glad you got to learn yourself.

  14. Wow, what a beautiful art work and I have actually just heard about it. I like the intricate design of it and all the small details up to the color, they’re all rhyme together. I also love it even more because you have included the history of it. I think it takes patience and intelligence to do it. I wish I could see this personally and will surely take a lot of photos of it. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  15. That is gorgeous! What a treat to learn more about it. It is certainly colorful but it’s so great to really understand more about the process. Just beautiful.

  16. The colors are simply stunning. I love learning about the process behind the art because so much can be told to help you appreciate the art more. I like how he showed you the book of the tools and I want to know what that secret paste is 🙂

  17. I love learning about new artistic traditions, this is something that fell under my radar while in India. I picked a number of artwork in Udaipur but nothing of this caliber. Really exquisite pieces 🙂

  18. Very impressive art work! I love the intricate details and the vibrant colours. The use of gold makes the pieces look even more elegant!

  19. Wow this was a very amazing post! I thought it was very unique and fun to learn more about this amazing and intricate art and to see the person behind the process telling us a little bit more about how he does it!

  20. It is so amazing how complex his art is! There are so many details and the result is just magnificent. I also saw similar pieces in Rajasthan.

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