Sunday, April 11, 2004

Takht that showcases a rare craftsmanship
Subhash Parihar

The takht at Bhalur is a meeting point for villagers
The takht at Bhalur is a meeting point for villagers

A standard scene in every village of Punjab is a group of villagers gossiping on large wooden takht under some shady tree. It serves as a village club. The gathering comprises old men and idlers. From morning till evening, people come and play cards or engage in leisurely talk which ranges from international affairs to local gossip. A rare example of the takht, the single furniture item of this club, is the extraordinary takht at Bhalur, a small nondescript village of Moga district.

This takht measures 120.5 inches in length and 69.5 inches in breadth. Its seat level is 33-inches high. But for some space in the middle, the longer sides of the takht have a seven-inch-high boundary that serves as a back-rest. The back-rest is higher on smaller sides, rising to a height of 16 inches at the highest point. What makes the takht a rare piece is not its extraordinary size but the superb craftsmanship of the carved decoration on its sides.

All the four sides of this takht are decorated with carved designs from a variety of religious and secular themes.These carvings form an art gallery of common Punjabi peoples’ tastes and culture.

One carving depicts Sarwan Kumar, the exemplar of an ideal son in Indian folklore, carrying his blind parents in a behangi balanced over his shoulders. Another one shows the battle between Rama and Ravana. The rakshasa king is shown with ten heads and he is flanked by his horned demon companions. On the side of Rama stands his brother Lakshman. The monkey general Hanuman is shown kneeling before Rama. The two groups are separated by a body of rippling water in which a fish and a ship are shown floating.

Four-armed Durga riding a lion is shown fighting with buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura. Krishna is portrayed playing flute among gopis carrying pitchers on their heads and riding Seshanaga. Ganesha, the god of good luck and Kartikeya, the god of war, both sons of Shiva, are shown with their traditional vahanas, the mouse and the peacock.

Carvings depict scenes from Mirza Sahiban and Heer Ranjha
Carvings depict scenes from Mirza Sahiban and Heer Ranjha

From among the secular scene, the most famous love-stories of Punjab, Heer Ranjha and Mirza Sahiban form the theme of two carvings. In the scene from Mirza Sahiban, Mirza is shown dead, his bow and quiver hanging on the jand tree. Sahiba’s brothers are on horses. In the Heer Ranjha scene, Ranjha is depicted grazing buffaloes while Heer is standing at a distance. Interestingly, in at least two respects Ranjha echoes Krishna. Both of them are herdsman and both play the flute. In the depiction, Ranjha’s buffaloes have beautifully curled horns.

The carving depicting a battle scene, obviously records one of two Anglo-Sikh wars because in the army on one side are soldiers with hats and guns, representing the British army, and on the other side are Sikh soldiers with traditional weapons like khanda or the two-edged sword. The Sikh soldiers wear kachhahra (knee-length pair of breeches) and typical nihang head-gear. In the centre, one nihang is shown as having decapitated a British soldier whose hat has fallen nearby.

One carving depicts a royal campaign, probably that of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who is shown riding an elephant. In the army, two buffaloes are pulling a wheeled gun and are followed by soldiers on horses and camels. A court scene shows Ranjit Singh in his durbar attended by Muslim and Sikh soldiers carrying sticks. On this side of the takht are also carved the scenes of royal hunt.

In another depiction, a madari is making a bear dance and the second one is making a goat sit on a stool whereas a monkey sits nearby. Another folk entertainment, a sapera or a snake-charmer is shown playing been in front of two snakes dancing to its tune at the tip of their tails. Snake-charmer’s typical carrier, potlis or cloth bats hanging at the two ends of a bamboo pole are also shown.

Besides these scenes there are some purely decorative human, birds and floral figures. All these carvings are in low relief. One common feature of all the figures, human as well as animal, is that their bodies are usually marked with a similar texture.

Although all the inhabitants of the village are genuinely proud of this takht, nobody has an exact idea about the takht’s antiquity. According to tales told by villagers, years ago a wood-carver came to the village in search of labour. He said to the villagers, "Just supply me with my daily food I shall prepare a beautiful takht for you." The villagers agreed to the proposal. It took him two years to carve it. Since the carvings also depict a scene from the Anglo-Sikh wars fought in the fifth decade of the nineteenth century, it does not date earlier than that.

Local inhabitants narrate how some time back the takht was sold secretly but when they got to know, they resisted the deal and did not allow the buyers to carry it out of the village. Later, a large room was built in the local gurdwara to display the takht where it lies now. The real beauty of this excellent piece of workmanship has to be seen to be appreciated.