The art of carving and embedding Hoshiarpur wood in the Doaba region, Indian state of Punjab, has been recognized for centuries. However, environmental protection to a rare wood and the introduction of complicated bureaucratic export practices has dramatically changed the profession. Now that carving wood has become less lucrative, the trade is beginning to languish, leaving many artisans with no viable path.
Hoshiarpur is located on the slopes of the Himalayas and has housed the art of wood inlays for centuries.
Wood Inlay of Hoshiarpur, Punjab is a decorative technique of inserting pieces of diffrent material such as bone, shell & wood in the base wooden object to form patterns.The motifs are Persian origin that can be found in the furniture & decorative items of Punjab.#CraftsOfIndia pic.twitter.com/bdkAYJ6GLM
– OdishaCraftsMuseum-Kala Bhoomi (@kalabhoomibbsr) December 19, 2019
Wood inlays from Hoshiarpur, Punjab, decorative technique of inserting pieces of different materials such as bone, shells and wood into the wooden base object to form patterns. The motifs are of Persian origin that can be found in furniture and decorative items from Punjab.
Antique ivory products with inlaid Hoshiarpur are highly sought after at auction houses, in India and abroad. After the ban on marketing ivory, the artisans turned to bone, metal and acrylic, which can be seen in modern pieces.
Before and now, artisans prefer the high-quality wood of the shisham tree (rosewood from northern India) that is considered more durable and resistant to deformation.
After the growing Chinese demand for rosewood led to complaints about the massive decline of the tree in Latin American forests, rosewood wood topped the list of restricted trade items in 2017. This shortage of wood generated the rise of encrusted products of wood which led to a fall in local demand and greater dependence on exports.
At the same time, the Indian Government created its own international certificate of compliance Vriksh, which certifies that the wood used in articles is obtained legally and responsibly. However, obtaining the certificate has generated another layer of bureaucracy that has generated an increase in the price already inflated by intermediaries that sell in wood. Together with the increase in taxes, it is leading to the progressive deterioration of timber artisans in the region.
The website of the Government of Hoshiarpur calculates the number of practicing artisans between one hundred and 150 and notes that the shortage of shisham wood is threatening the survival of the trade.
Kirrst, an associate of Global Voices, is an online gallery in which stories about artisans from the Punjab region are documented. In 2018, Kirrt introduced Rajesh, a wood carver from Hoshiarpur, who described how the profession has changed over time:
All the craftsmen, who knew the art of carving patterns in wood and shading them, has passed away. I'm one of the last two artists left in the business. Kapurthala is known for its unique furniture with ivory inlay. But when the government banned the ivory, we started using acrylic sheets to maintain the white color. (..)
In 1911, my grandfather went to England as part of a team to do wooden work in English homes. We still possess the certificate he got back then. I was 10 when I held the shading pencils for the first time. (,,) I never excelled at school. My family decided to take me off the school and teach me the family profession.
All artisans, who knew the art of carving patterns in wood and shading them, have passed away. I am the last of two artists left in the business. Kapurthala is known for its unique furniture inlaid with ivory. But when the government banned ivory, we started using acrylic sheets to keep the color white. (…)
In 1911, my grandfather went to England as part of a team to do wooden works in English houses. We still have the certificate they gave you. I was ten years old the first time I held the shading pencils. (,.,) I was never good at school. My family decided to take me out of school and teach me the family profession.
Describe that it is a profession that pays little:
But even after all this hard work, I didn’t achieve much. I've never been able to save a cent from this job. My daily wage is just 300-400 (US $ 4-6) Rs. which is barely enough to sustain everyday life.
But after this hard work, I didn't achieve much. I have never been able to save a penny from this job. My daily salary is barely 300-400 rupees (four to six dollars), which is barely enough to sustain a daily support.
Rajesh talks about the challenges that many artists face:
By complaining so much I am not blaming the shopkeeper who has hired me, his position isn’t any better. Furniture worth lakhs is lying in the store waiting for customers. Our products don't have local customers, they are expensive for the locals. Most of the sale happened overseas but now the government has imposed so much tax on exporting and you have to submit (a lot of) paperwork for all the material used in a product.
With these complaints I do not blame the owner of the store that hired me, his position is not much better. Furniture that costs a lot of money is in the store waiting for customers. Our products do not have local customers, they are expensive for the locals. Most of the sale occurs abroad, but now the Government has imposed too much export taxes and you must send (many) papers for all the material used in a product.