Indian Lacquer 13
Lacquer craft has a rich history in the Indian tradition, folk culture and rituality since times immemorial. Folklore has it that wearing Lac bangles keeps one’s blood pressure in check and eating from a Lac vessel is good for digestion. The earliest mention of Lac can be traced to a religious mythology from four thousand years ago, where it appears in one of the most important events of the Mahabharata. Lac derives its name from the Sanksrit word Lākṣhā, which denotes the large multitude of lac-producing insects. The insect Laccifer Lacca feeds on the sap of a host tree to produce a protective resin covering- which is raw Lac. This resin is collected. refined and prepared with limestone to make Chapdi stick form of the Lac material. Lac is the only known resin of an insect or animal origin and possesses several unique properties – it is non-toxic, biodegradable, sustainable and eco-friendly. The versatility of lac is evident from its usage across handicraft, medicine, agriculture, and many more. In the craft field, Lac is often applied over base materials (usually wood or metal) for protection and ornamentation purposes. In western India, lac bangle-making is a traditional craft where craftsmen (karigars) use raw lac to craft bangles in striking colors. The knowledge and skills of the craft are usually passed down through generations as the karigars learn the craft by watching the seniors in the family. Today, global capitalistic trends continue to disrupt inherited skills and the heritage lac economy rooted in local traditions. Karigars, their craft and their sleepy tuck shops on the street side are diminishing as a result, now faster than ever. The lac craft in India is relatively unexplored, with limited research and few historical records. I am researching the history of lac and how it can be made relevant in a contemporary context.