As part of our travels back to Jaipur we spent some time wandering through the markets with our photographer, Naveli Choyal and spoke to some of the local artisans about their craft. Here we speak with Hansraj, owner of a Lac Bangle shop, about his craft, the process of creating these beautiful pieces, and the cultural relevance they have within Jaipur culture.
Can you tell us about the history of the bangles?
The history of the bangles starts with the story of lac, the material they are made with. Produced by insects that feed on trees, it’s used widely in food, cosmetics, and more across the world. The craft of making lac bangles is as old as the city of Jaipur itself.
How is the lac material sourced?
It all begins by collecting the lac from the trees. India is one of the largest producers of lac in the world, the insects produce a scarlet-colour resin which forms small beads on the branches of the trees, which is then scraped off before being cleaned and made into a product called ‘shellac’.
Shellac arrives in small flat discs or locally named ‘chapadi’ or ‘tikli’, for us to start working with. They come in two colours, burnt umber and ochre, and they form the main component of lac bangles. A resin called berja is added to the lac, for softness. Another component in this process is a fine stone powder called giya powder. To prepare the base mixture, we heat the chapadi and berja resin in a large kadhai. Water is added to the mixture. As the lac melts, the giya powder is added to the mix, which is allowed to blend till it forms a thick lump. This mixture is then taken off the fire, kneaded well, and rolled into coils. That’s how we make the bangles.
We’ve noticed a lot of the lac bangle producers have different roles for men and women, can you talk a little about that?
Lac bangle-making involves both men and women. The men make the bangles while working at small kilns and furnaces, while women work on the embellishment and manage the shops. We make the bangles in the storefront throughout the day, on average it takes 6-7 hours to make a dozen bangles, which we sell in the store as people pass by. When visiting Maniharon ka Rasta (the lane where these bangles are traditionally sold), look out for shops named ‘Maniharin’ which are run by the women of the community.
Lac Bangles are typically sold in the lane called Maniharon ka Rasta, how did the artisans find this as their base?
Jaipur was planned in a way for different types of craftsmen, such as woodworkers, jewellery makers, and textile craftsmen, to live in separate mohallas or small neighbourhoods. When you visit the markets of Jaipur you can still see this, for example, Johari Bazaar, as the name suggests, is a market for jewellery and fine cloth.
How are the bangles embellished?
We normally embellish the bangles with pearls, semi-precious stones, mirrors, and beads. The stones are heated over a tin plate kept on a small burner and easily melt the lac surface on which they are placed, sticking once they cool. We then pick them up one at a time and stick them to the bangle. The process requires great precision, and the women of the artisan family normally work on the embellishments.
The lac bangles in your shop are so vibrant in colour, how is the colour applied?
We use coloured lac blocks to apply colour. These blocks are used by mixing lac with colours we find in the market. The blocks are attached to wooden rods and heated over the coals before being applied over the lac. We can make many designs and patterns by applying different colours in varied styles.
Then to make a bangle, the coloured coil is cut into small pieces and rolled out again. Using a wooden tool called Khali that has a groove in it, the coloured coil is pressed, and the coil takes the shape of a narrow groove. Using this, the long coil is joined into a loop and is then heated over the coal again. We then put the completed lac bangle into a wooden mandrel to perfect its size and refine its shape. Then finally polish it ready to be worn. After all these steps, a bright colourful bangle comes alive, ready to adorn the wrist of its wearer!
When are the bangles here traditionally sold?
The best time for selling lac bangles is during local festivals in the spring and the monsoon, such as Teej and Gangaur. We sell exclusive Lehriya, a local term used for tie-dye textiles, bangles during Teej in the city.
Lac bangles are an important part of a bride’s ensemble, and an exclusive series of bangles are crafted for the occasion. The bangles are customised to match different outfits worn by the bride.