St. Louis in Missouri, US, might quickly be becoming the “Chess-Playing Capital of the World” but Amritsar in India can be aptly called ‘The Chess-Making Capital of the World’ being the hub of unique hand-crafted wooden chess sets. Quite interestingly, India’s contribution in exporting chess sets has been 80% in the global market. Be it the rosewood Staunton chess set, or any other magnificent travel chess set in Egyptian theme that any chess aficionado carries around, chances are, that it is hand-crafted at Amritsar.
SouvNear started selling in 2013 and now represents artisans to sell these chess sets in wholesale to retailers across the world. To learn and discover more about what makes this otherwise deeply devout city the epicentre of the global chess-set exports, team SouvNear reached Amritsar to learn how these chess sets are made before these become the style statement of luxury houses.
To our amazement, the scale of industry and operations involved is HUGE! Spread in an enormous area, we could see hundreds of small and big shops/workshops with thousands of artisans creating something with their hands.
One specific shop where we had to go was suggested by some close friend who gets a variety of chess sets made for himself and his close ones from there. He simply said “A group of warm people who value their art and intend to reach the world with their honest efforts are the ones you should be meeting for your purpose”.
After exploring the narrow and colorful streets of Amritsar, we finally reached our destination. It was a small shop that displayed almost every kind of chess set one could think of. From a cute tiny chess set to a huge one, from Roman war-theme to the classic Staunton one, from Gods of mythology to American revolutionaries, from travel to décor purposes and a lot more…
The astonishing fact was that this huge collection was created collaboratively by a team of just eight people who have been carving wooden chess sets of all kinds and selling them at nominal prices!
Tarun Singh, the main artisan of the group could gauge our excitement seeing such a diverse collection of wooden chess sets and on request he agreed to tell us about the process of creating these unique pieces and also to have a quick glance at their workstation.
The following is the excerpt of the conversation we had with Tarun and his team about their lives and art:
Team SouvNear: You are a team of eight people working together to create something new every time. Do you all enjoy your work?
Tarun Singh: Completely! We cannot imagine ourselves doing anything better than this. Every new day we challenge ourselves to create something different with the best of quality. This work is creative and fulfilling.
Team SouvNear: From where did you all learn this art?
Tarun Singh: I inherited this skill from my dad who learnt it from his father. Actually our family has been creating handmade chess sets from almost 70 years now. Kirpal and Vinod (another 2 members of the group) also learnt this skill from their forefathers and the rest of the team learnt it by trying because they wanted to do it.
Team SouvNear: How are these wooden chess sets made?
Tarun Singh: First, the wood is dried for 3-4 months in the suitable atmosphere and then every square of the chessboard is cut with hands using a saw. Those pieces are glued together into a wooden frame and rubbed and polished 7-8 times at multiple levels to avoid any kind of disfiguration.
Once all the pieces are in place, every single item is inspected before it goes into packaging.
The best part is that we create every single piece from real Rosewood and Maple wood. These 2 woods lend 2 different colors (deep brown and beige) which complete the chess board without any addition of artificial colors. So we never have to compromise with the authenticity of any piece we create.
The woods drying in the open
Tarun deeply engrossed in cutting wood pieces on the saw
Kirpal creating wooden frames using the dovetail joint technique
The final stage of polishing and inspecting the chess sets
Team SouvNear: This might be a personal question but how do you share your craft with the chess-lovers around?
Tarun Singh: Well, right now our reach is very limited. We definitely have the urge to share our art with the whole world but no effective means to do that. Our efforts are honest but very few know about the work we do. So that is something we are lacking in right now.
Seeing them work so passionately, we certainly wanted to share their art with the whole world. And today, after 1 year of association with Tarun and his team, they are acknowledged with great feedback from around the world.
One of the consumers from The United States posts this feedback on Amazon for Tarun and his team:
“Being a former woodworker, I can tell you that it is gorgeous. The corners are made by using a dovetail technique which adds both beauty and strength to the construction of the carcass. The hand-carved pieces are very well done by an accomplished craftsman and very usable, I’m sure.
One of the reasons I chose this set over others is that each piece has its own perfectly fitted cut-out spot in foam padding under the playing surface for storage instead of piling all the pieces together in a common compartment.”
Like Tarun, we have been trying to highlight hundreds of local and indigenous artisans, in rural areas, who can showcase their art-forms to the whole world.
We would be more than happy to have your feedback, suggestions or appreciation remarks for the artisans who have been putting their whole life and heart to create masterpieces for you.
Thanks for reading!