Sheesham Garh, the land of Saharanpur.
Posted on Wednesday, January 18 2017 12:00:00 AM in Blog by Faraz Khan
Nestled in the Indo-Gangetic plains under the shadow of the Shivalik ranges, Saharanpur till date remains one of the most congenial and ideal places for creative development in the Indian subcontinent, perhaps because of its strategic location between a temperate zone of the doab of rivers Ganga and Yamuna. Due to being located on a high fertility river land, Saharanpur boasts of ample availability of quality timber. Wood, hence, became the most convenient material for construction in the medieval ages. Once stone replaced wood for building purposes, wood became more of a luxury material used in the art of hand-carving cottage industries.
The first beginnings of woodcraft in Saharanpur are said to be from the wooden comb of Sheesham, which was embellished with mirch ki bel or peppervine. Thereafter, the industry slowly developed with the Mughal empire coming to rule. It is also said that woodcraft and wood-carving was brought to India by Persian artisans, who moved to kashmir due to lack of Sheesham wood in Persia. These artisans later moved to other parts of Northern India with the Mughal Empire, thereby establishing the wood handicraft industry and bringing various tools and techniques into practice. A mixture of Islamic, Hindu and Persian concepts began to be embedded into this art form as it gained patronage and popularity.
Between 1950-60, a modern innovation by the label of “inlay” or “inlaid work” was introduced in Saharanpur. Inlay commonly refers to a technique of craft decoration wherein different kind of materials like silver, ivory, brass or even coloured plastic were inserted into wooden surface to create items like flower pots, trays, table-tops, etc.
Around 1965, the practice of inlaid work gave birth to another such technique - brass overlaying, which involved cut pieces of brass in various shapes, designs and motifs being pasted on the wood.
Between 1975-80, geometry started getting factored in, and the traditional artisans were quick to adapt to changes and modernisation of their industry. Differently coloured woods became popular and woodcrafters started arranging these into geometrical patterns. Thus, the concept of mosaic came into being.
The decade of 1980s brought with itself a change in the timber used for woodcrafting. Sheesham was growing exceedingly expensive, and hence, artisans took to woods like teak, redwood, mango wood, sal wood which were more economical and equally easy to work with.
Saharanpur continues to thrive today as one of India’s exclusive destinations for wood handicrafts. The artisans of Saharanpur have passed down the art of handcrafting from generations to generations, and the best part, one realises, is how readily they adapt to changing times. From beginning with a wood comb, the artisans of Saharanpur have now taken to carving wood into eyewear holders, mobile stands and whatnot.
Due to its popularity as a wood crafting region, Saharanpur has been commonly named Sheesham Garh.