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Varanasi’s Soft Stone Craft gets a leg up from Govt

Popular as soft stone undercut work, Kaashi’s soft stone ‘jaali’ work has acquired a new identity in the masonry and interior design world as the government is inclined to promote it in France, America and many Gulf countries. 

This GI-tagged craft is known for the finesse in creating multiple shapes one inside another by carving stones and that too without any joints is a unique craft of the Kashi artisans.

The intriguing thing about the soft stone jali work artefacts made by undercut work is that they are carved within a single piece of stone without any joints.

According to Dwarika Prasad,  state awardee artisan,“The government is playing a significant role in reviving this craft as there was a time when artisans were leaving this work due to problems like lack of electric supply and market for the products,” he said.

The government’s initiatives of free tool kit distribution and skill development programmes  and branding of local crafts  have enhanced this skill beyond boundaries, with its introduction to foreign delegates.Consequently  artisans are now getting new orders, in the country as well as abroad.

GI expert and Padma Shri awardee Rajini Kant said that this art, which had become endangered, started flourishing again due to the policies of the government. The business of this art has increased up to Rs 10 to 12 crore today, he claimed.

The soft stone undercut artefacts are produced exclusively in Varanasi, Chandauli, Mirzapur and Sonbhadra districts, he said. Long back the artisans of Ramnagar used to get royal patronage from the royalties of Kashi.

After the government started taking interest in its promotion, this art is now gaining ground in the world market. Kant said that the craze for this art has increased in the markets of Europe, Gulf countries, Buddhist countries and America. About 500 to 700 artisans are engaged in this traditional industry at present.

Kant said that ‘jaali’ or fretwork is intricately carved on soft stone and the process requires supreme mastery of masonry and design making.

The Varanasi soft stone jali work epitomizes both high skill and superior quality of craftsmanship. Delicately chiselled and decorated with inlay work, these elaborately carved jalis demand time in their making along with the skill and creativity of the masters.

The most noted product of this art is an undercut elephant. The artisans carve a variety of products from soapstone like lamp stands, small bowls, jaalis, candle stands and decorative items.

Last year, a soft stone jali work shaped as dodo, an extinct flightless bird endemic to the island of Mauritius was presented by Chief Minister Yogi  to Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth during an eight-day visit to India. This intricate artefact was prepared by the state awardee Bachchalal Maurya of Ramnagar and his team.

The Prime Minister  has continuously been promoting the local crafts through artisanal gifts presented to his foreign counterparts as a gesture of soft diplomacy  This craft along with other handicrafts were put on display at the Deen Dayal Hastkaka Sankul for the view of French President Emanuel Macron during his visit to the city five years back.

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