A small family-run workshop keeps traditional craft of bone carving alive in Lucknow

Jalaluddeen Akhtar and his son Aqeel who works alongside him in one of the very few workshops practicing bone carving are able to keep its doors open to everyone who has an eye for beauty.

Bone carving has been one of the skillful vocations in Indian culture from prehistoric times. However it was lionised by Mughals as royals would commission elaborate bone carvings such as jewelry, intricately carved walking sticks, and jewelry storage chests to adorn their palaces. Of course, those historic carvings were done in ivory, but once that was made illegal, artisans like Akhtar began using camel and buffalo bones, sourced from butchers who are happy to get rid of these bones.

Akhtar learned the art of bone carving from his uncle in 1980 and has been producing stunning.masterpieces ever since, now his son Aqeel, who learned the art of bone carving when he was 14, is using the internet to bring their work to a wider audience in the hopes of helping them continue with the tradition.

From lamps to pens to knives to earrings, necklaces and whatnot. They have been creating scores of usable and decorative goods out of bones.The bone fragments that don’t make it into the final carving are sold to businesses that grind them down and place them in fertilizers. Hence, nothing goes to waste.

With government support, the Akhtar family teaches government-subsidized workshops in the community, passing their knowledge along. And, together with a handful of specialist artisans, they continue to create stunning bone carvings.

They use a small buffing machine to smoothen the artwork in the end. A mini handheld Dremel tool is used to make carvings, but that’s limited to the crude shaping of the work—the detailing is made by hand using needle files. The Jaali work—the net, star, or flower-shaped latticework—is initiated by drilling holes and then the central part of the carving is entirely done by hand using needle files without any stencils.

 

The most intricate work they are currently working on is restoring a lamp that was made about 60 years ago. It takes about 1,000 hours of work by skilled craftsmen to make a masterpiece lamp.

Still most of their carvings are shipped abroad to international customers. Aqeel hopes to capitalize on this interest by making their catalog available online and posting finished pieces on Reddit, Instagram, and Facebook.



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