Ivory Work in India

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Ivory carving in India has been an extremely popular craft since ages. The Vedic texts include ivory work amongst the noblest of crafts. According to history, King Solomon acquired Indian Ivory in 10th Century B.C, and King Darius used ivory decorations in his palace in 6th century B.C. Khadaon or the sandals made of ivory were used in India, particularly by the Brahmins and religious figures who considered shoes made of animal skin unclean.

India is known for crafts on tusks of elephants. The Ivory carvers of Bengal, Jaipur and Delhi produce objects such as the ambari hathi or processional elephant, models of bullock carts, caskets, book covers, sandals, palanquins and frames for the European market. In Orissa, there has been a tradition of offering ivory inlaid furniture to the temple of Puri.

Miniature shrines with delicate pillars and intricate low relief floral work, caskets depicting scenes from myths and legends, and images of gods and goddesses and Christian icons and symbols has been a tradition in Kerala and Karnataka. Kerala has an amazing tradition of painting on ivory. The state specialises in figures of gods and goddesses, scenes from Ramayana and other epic stories and the statue of St. George on a giant charger, killing the dragon with his spear.

Delhi is another important centres for ivory carving. Popular items like chess sets, billiard balls and small articles like scent bottles, paper knives, trinket or pan boxes, and a number of jewellery items like beads, bead necklaces, bangles and rings are made here. Uttar Pradesh is famous for its Hindu and Buddhist figures of deities, dancing poses and decorative plaques. Ivory craftsmen of Gujarat make human figures as also statues of deities in excellent quality. Punjab’s highly decorated elephants and figurines depicting characters from folk or heroic tales are superb.

Rajasthan is also famous for its ivory items, which include fans with charming figures for handles and the centre pieces for the dining table with ornately carved receptacles. In Rajasthan, Bharatpur, Udaipur, Jaipur and Jodhpur are important centres for ivory carving. While Jaipur is famous for its carved ivory, Jodhpur specialized in ivory bangles. The bangles were worn to cover the whole arm and they decreased in size from just below the shoulder to the wrist. The Jali-work of a lace like intricacy is testimony to the ivory carvers, fine eyes and unerring hands. Animal figures, birds, fish trays, paper knives and a host of other decorative objects are carved with much artistry in ivory.

The work on the doors of the Amber palace in Jaipur and the exquisite inlay in the Mysore palace doors and the Golden Temple at Amritsar proclaim the architectural decoration with Ivory.

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