The Jaali/Openwork Art: Bringing Stones Alive Using the Process of Hand-Carving

Handmade stone art on SouvNear

Creativity and innovation have been the epitome of development of the human race. While innovation and quest for efficiency has fuelled the growth of science and technology, the lure and attraction of beauty and aesthetically pleasing works have inspired great pieces of art and artefacts.

So have I learnt from my exploration and exposure to the various parts of my country – India. My fascination with art and travel to places of the very origin of the art-form knits my association with SouvNear.

Lately a visit to a friend’s home brought another exciting assignment my way. This short visit opened before me the gateway to this world of crafts where the space was full of art, skill, creativity, imagination and innovation with guidance from the past. Had I not noticed that netted elephant statue on the table catching all the attention in the room, I would have never known about something called ‘Openwork or Jaali Art‘. 

The small stone sculpture of an elephant that caught my attention even before I seated myself on the sofa was a gift to her from Agra. In my curiosity to know and learn about the art form, and to add this excellent art form to the SouvNear collection, I soon packed my bags and left for the city and what unfolds thereafter is shared with you all.

Agra – The hub of openwork or jaali carving is world famous with the Taj Mahal being its crown jewel and the jaali craft here being developed and perfected by the local artisans over the generations.

‘Openwork or Jaali art’ intrinsic to Agra and love of many artisans here is yet unexplored to the core by art-lovers. I am glad that it came to my notice and I assume my part of the job is done well.

Stone carvers here in Agra whole-heartedly indulge in openwork art enriched with knowledge and skill that has been passed on to them, over years, by those who created the jaalis for The Taj Mahal way back in the 17th century. These are the men who willingly chose to carve and not by force convert stones to interesting elephant sculptures and owl sculptures, imitation of Taj Mahal, and utility articles such as tealight or votive candleholders and much more.

As they proudly say “Carving is not only the source of livelihood but a passion in us”, they derive inspiration from the work of their ancestors and strive to keep this old art alive in similar fashion and style.

What comes as a striking part of the visit is to witness how expression and charm are adorned on these lifeless stones through the openwork style paired with the efficient skill of the artisan.

In this style of sculpting the only requirement as a raw material is the soapstone or marble. The huge rocks ideal for carving are procured from different places of Asia. The rock is first cut into smaller pieces using sharp-clawed cutters. The rough stone piece is then filed with a motor-operated iron wheel to smoothen the surface and to bring a particular shape that may be round or oval.

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An artisan filing a rough stone on a motor operated wheel

Now, this smoothened piece is carved out using a chisel and a hammer. The piece is further perfected with a hand-filer to bring out the intricate features of the statue.

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An artisan busy carving a marble stone and also noticeable in the picture are carved elephants without the jaali pattern

On this sculpture, the desired jaali design is drawn freehand using a pencil. After this, the piece is painstakingly pierced to form the jaali. The holes are drilled in the sculpture with small hand operated sharp tools. This is done with great concentration and focus as the sculptor cannot afford one single wrong stroke.  As one wrong move can break the entire jaali into bits and thus shatter his dream of creating the piece-of-art.

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Jaali being carved on an elephant figurine

Once the piece is created, it is dusted with a soft cloth to remove the stone talc and buffed with polish and the finished product is the artist’s masterpiece.

See an Openwork elephant sculpture in marble on SouvNear

Finished elephant sculpture in marble with ‘Jaali Art’. Also a smaller elephant carved inside the main sculpture is noticeable

Openwork tealight holders

Tealight holders in soapstone showcasing the ‘Jaali Art in floral patterns’

Such assorted creations reveal a lot about ‘The Art and The Artist’ who created each one of them. These artefacts boast on individuality, though speechless, but call for admiration and appraisals.

With strings attached to the past, these stone carvers, high in imagination and trained in skill, aim to touch the sky and capture the hearts of more and many through their scintillating art-works.

As I frame my experience into words, over the years, we have created an amazing diversity in the forms of art across the world which is best exemplified by India with its multitude of artworks and handicrafts and this “Jaali Art” integral to Indian Art is an extraordinary one.

 

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