NID - Craft Documentation...

Barmer  Wooden Craft Furniture of Rajasthan
by Samit Roychoudhury
Jodhpur | Kishangarh | Shekhavati | Tiloniya | Udaipur

light fixture

wall decoration in form of a carved wheel

the tools used for carving

a carved lamp and a carved dressing table

a food trolley

a dressing stool

Barmer has become famous for its variety of carved furniture. It also boasts of stone and mirror work, leather and cloth embroidery, printing and dyeing.

The carvings originated in the ancient Hindu and Jain temples scattered all over the state, for which local sculptors were employed. Jaisalmer, the desert outpost, where this craft actually has its roots, is full of havelis and forts with intricate stone carvings. It is said that 40 years ago, Jawahar Ram Suthar, a resident of Undkha, 15 kilometres west of Barmer, brought the skills and traditions to the city. He is said to have been inspired by the Patvos Haveli in Jaisalmer. Carved wooden furniture from Barmer got a major boost after the Indo—Pakistan wars.

The Place
Barmer is the headquarters of the district of the same name. It is a small desert outpost, barely 50 kilometres from the international border. The landscape is semi-arid and barren, with little vegetation. The town itself is clustered and dusty. There are a few manufacturers and dealers who involve local craftsmen to produce the craft furniture of this region.

Barmer is connected by train from Jodhpur, Jaipur, and Munnabao on the border. There are regular buses to most of the major cities in Rajasthan, as well as other nearby towns.

The People
Most of the craftsmen are originally from the outlying villages, who have now settled in the town. They work under the major manufacturers, and are traditionally of the Suthar caste. With the setting up of the Nehru Yuva Kendra, and its subsidiary the TRYSEM (Training of Rural Youth for Self Employment) in 1981, the craft developed, and training began to be imparted to youngsters of lower castes. Subsequently, the stronghold of the Suthars have been broken and many youngsters from other communities, including scheduled castes and tribes are also involved.

The Craft
As mentioned earlier, the roots of the Barmeri craft furniture lie in the havelis and the forts of Jaisalmer. The base material used has gradually shifted from stone to wood.
For many years, right up to the 1960s, the craft was dormant. During the Indo—Pak wars, Barmer developed as a major military base. Subsequently, the armymen took interest in the furniture, and provided the impetus and a ready market for the craftsmen to sell their products. This popularised the art and now the demand for this craft has crossed the national borders.

The salient feature of the Barmeri craft is its intricate carvings, and excellence in details. After an initial period of experimentation, innovation and finesse have become the hallmark of the furniture. There are a few standard carving patterns which are used in various permutations and combinations.

After the parts of the furniture are cut to size, they are marked for carving. Various specialised hand tools are used to painstakingly carve out the details. Finally the finished pieces are joined together. There exists a sort of assembly line technique, where each person specialises in his particular job. The completed items are finished by sanding, and then applications of stainers and spirit polishes which is topped by a coat of melamine. These are either brushed or sprayed on.

The major articles which are manufactured are sofas, dressing tables, beds, centre and side tables, lamps, trolleys, dining sets, diwans and settees.

Raw Material and Tools
Roida, an insignificant local tree, originally used as fuel and fodder was experimented upon. Good results enabled extensive use. As supplies of this wood ran out, and due to environmental consciousness, the craftsmen started looking for alternatives.

A problem which arose then was that the craftsmen who were involved in training lower caste people were threatened with excommunication by their associates. Gradually, by cajoling and persuasion, this problem was solved.

Walnut and Sessamum were also tried, but did not meet the requited standards. The most suitable alternative, teak, which is durable, provides maximum width, does not warp, and allows good carving, is generally used, apart from babool which is used for cheaper varieties. The wood id procured ready cut from dealers in Jodhpur.

The major workshops have good facilities for craftsmen. Apart from the usual hand tools, electric tools such as drills, lathes and saws are used. Smaller pieces are planed by hand, while for larger ones, machines are used. The carving tools include a set of fine small chisels of various types, which are used for various sections in carving. A hand drill with an m-shaped bit is used to carve holes with outer rings.

The joinery is done using fevicol and nails. The finishes used are spirit polishes, after the article has been sanded, and finally a coat of melamine.

The Market
There are three main dealers of craft furniture in Barmer. These people also have their own craftsmen who work for them. These craftsmen are provided with all facilities, and are either paid on time or piece basis. M/s Kamdar, who sends his products all over the country says his main selling point is quality. His is the largest organisation in Barmer. Exports are carried out through agents to countries like France, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Nehru Yuva Kendra which is also involved in the sale of these products has its main market in the Indian Air Force, the Border Security Force and the army units in this area. The rest are sold locally through their showroom and in fairs all over the country.

Problems and Suggestions
The basic problem is that hardly any design work is involved. Most of the work consists of surface decoration onto existing structures. A few new designs have evolved which have tried to incorporate elements of carving into modern furniture styles. The results have not been very satisfactory. Many of the products are simply just made to be sold, without any thought given to usage, convenience and usability.


site design | Samit Roychoudhury