What is Lac Work?
Lac work is a piece of art like jewelry, bangles and other accessories made from lac.
Lac is a viscous and sticky, resin discharged by an insect named Kerria Lacca. This insect makes its abode in the branches of trees like Pipal or Kusum and after a while, deposits some red-coloured sticky substances on them.
These coated tree branches are then cut to remove those viscous substances. The obtained sticky substance is then cleaned to remove all the unwanted impurities. The seed from this is lac is in its purest form.
History of Lac Artwork
Lac work is an art form that’s prevalent in the traditional state of Rajasthan, for centuries.
Originally introduced during the 18th century, the Lac art was popularized by Raja of Jaipur Maharaja Ram Singh. He set up the Lac art industry in Rajasthan after bringing in artists from various states of India.
Artists and craftsmen have been using lac to produce beautiful pieces of artwork ranging from jewelry, accessories to home décor items. It was also sometimes used in the construction of some beautiful pieces of architecture.
When lac was first discovered, it was mostly used to adorn the doors and windows of houses since it made them look beautiful. The excellent finish offered by lac work was hard to replace and it was possible to effortlessly create various beautiful carvings and designs on Lac.
Cities and Regions Famous for Lac Work
Lac artwork was widespread in various parts of Rajasthan for ages. Known for their gorgeous colors and flawless, vibrant finish, the lac works of Jodhpur, Udaipur, Sawai and Madhopur are very popular.
Lac artwork in Rajasthan’s capital city of Jaipur has gained more popularity due to it its relatively high popularity in the travel and tourism sector.
The strikingly beautiful and colorful bangles with vibrant, gorgeous colors, are in almost all corners of the city. It is immensely loved by women, especially young girls.
Lac works are now a part of the fashion industry as well. Celebrities make a fashion statement with these jewelry and accessories. Most of these bangles have intricate designs and stunning stones. They are sometimes even coated with metal embellishments to add shine and lustre. They also make for great gift items.
With time, the art of making jewelry from lac spread to other parts of India. There’s a predominant lac making unit in Hyderabad, which specializes in making lac bangles.
Bihar, Karnataka and Gujarat are other states that make lac products in the form of toys and bracelets.
Uses of Lac in Making Jewelry and Accessories
The complex and intrinsic art of making Lac jewelry and other decorative articles needs a lot of accuracy and meticulous efforts.
The process of making lac artworks, which comprises heating, kneading and hammering, requires a lot of precision labor by skilled craftsmen. The soft lac then becomes a soft, dough-like mass.
While making a Lac bangle, the dough-like lac expands, gives shape and diameter and solidifies after it takes the desired shape.
The bangles then have the appropriate thickness by using a ring-like object and shaped by casting it into a groove. The lacs then gets cleaned and polished to give it the final finish.
After this laborious process involving high skills and accuracy, we get the final product in the form of beautiful Indian jewelry. These are often in beautiful mirror works and transparent glass beads.
While making other pieces of jewelry, lac is into grooves of various shapes in various colors. After the liquid lac cools and solidifies, it is removed, cleaned and polished to give it a flawless finish.
The lac materials create a whole lot of contemporary, modern products like napkin holders, pens, coasters, table wears, key chains, mirrors, toys and many others.
Famous Artisan of Lac Industry
A resident of Maniharon ka Rasta in Jaipur, Babu Khan, now 61, is in the lac artwork industry since ages. The craft has been a part of their family for seven generations and he learnt the art of making lac bangles from his father.
And though there have been considerable changes in the designs, colors and textures, the method of producing lac bangles is the same as before.
Babu Khan is widely known for his Lac Bangles, especially in the Maniharon ka Rasta area of Jaipur. He now owns a shop that sells different varieties of lac bangles adorned with gems and stones.
His sons and he together sell lac bangles to customers. They also teach the lac art craft to many people including foreigners.
Other famous lac artisans are Awaz Mohammad, a 2013 National Award winner and Mohamed Shamsher an expert craftsman. Their ancestors started this artwork nearly 200 years back.
Export Market of Lac
India is not only the largest manufacturer of lac, but it’s also one of the major lac exporters. Indian lac exports to countries like the USA, UK, China, Europe along with a few Middle Eastern countries.
Impact of Modernisation on Lac Work
The Lac reserves of our country hugely impacted by deforestation leading to increased cost of raw materials.
However, most people seem to be living under the rocks. As they still expect their lacquerware to be available at ancient prices.
A mute spectator of these changes is the figures which show the decrease of Lac furnaces. The number has gone down to about 250 from the astounding 1500 mark that existed year back.
Along with this, lac artists face several challenges with regards to customs and traditions associated with lac work.
In recent times, artists use innovative techniques and versatile methods to craft lac products. There are also several problems and difficulties. As other materials like steel and bronze are increasing, it has become difficult to identify original lac products.
Lac artists are forecasting a bleak future for the lac artwork industry. Due to which they are making sure that their children get proper education to help them sustain their future lives.
All these factors have forced several skilled artisans to seek alternate vocations.
Also read: Ganjifa Art And Cards: A Brief History
Follow Rajasthan Studio on Instagram for more amazing art and travel content. Reach out to us on email at contact[at]rajasthanstudio[dot]com. This blog is curated by Rajasthan Studio and written by Shivali Rai.