At market’s mercy, Hoshiarpur’s wood inlay art struggles : The Tribune India

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At market’s mercy, Hoshiarpur’s wood inlay art struggles

Craftspersons engaged in Hoshiarpur’s famous wood inlay art are fighting several odds to keep it alive

At market’s mercy, Hoshiarpur’s wood inlay art struggles

A wood inlay table

Sukhdev Singh

HOSHIARPUR in Punjab is best known for two things: its rainwater channels called choes and inlay wood craft, the latter having a place of pride internationally. The industry was at its peak during the colonial rule. An entry in the District Gazetteer of Hoshiarpur reads: “Of... superior importance as an industry... to support skilled workmen, is the wood inlay of ivory and brass of the district.” Sadly, the practitioners of the superlative art are today fighting several odds to survive.

Dressing table

The roots of inlay (bharaai in Punjabi and Hindi) craft can be traced to Florentine or picture art (also called pietra-dura or pietre-dure) on wooden cabinets and furniture, or pillars and doors, as used in the Mughal tradition. In this, wood is used as the base material on which the carving is done. The shapes and patterns are usually floral, geometrical or other traditional motifs. These hollowed-out spaces are then filled with another material in a contrasting colour to highlight the shapes, designs or patterns; this process is called wood inlay. This craft, therefore, involves two processes: one is making a utility or art object of wood and the other is carving designs on it, making inlay wood craft complex, requiring multiple skills.

A chati-madhani toy

During the British period, wood inlay work was done on tables and cabinets. The articles crafted in Hoshiarpur were exported to London as well. Sheesham was used as base and ivory or camel bone was employed for inlay; at times, brass was also used. The ivory usually came from the waste left by ivory comb makers and turners of ivory bangles. However, since the ban on ivory in India in 1989, acrylic, plastic and bronze have been used for inlay work on wood.

Jewellery box

The dislocation of artisans and industrialisation have impacted the craft negatively, yet the craftsmen have kept the tradition alive and the standards high with their dedication and hard work. Artefacts from Hoshiarpur have found a place in Rashtrapati Bhavan and are often gifted to foreign dignitaries. A local craftsman, Roopan Matharoo, has even won the National Award.

The recognition, however, hasn’t brought suitable remuneration to the artisans. The objects made in Hoshiarpur are sold in international markets, but the profits are pocketed by the middlemen and art dealers. The dealers provide raw material to the craftsmen and make them work on meagre daily wages of Rs 600-Rs 700.

Matharoo, whose son Kamaljit has now joined him, says majority of the younger generation of craftsmen has withdrawn from the craft since it neither gets them social respect, nor enough money for survival. “The government should promote the craft for its heritage value, besides a supporting allowance to the craftsmen in their old age,” he adds.

Kamaljit Matharoo says the government must take concrete steps to effect change.

A craftsman not wishing to be named says that the governments raise a hue and cry over skill development, but do not seem to care for these traditional skills. “We are skilled craftsmen but are not able to earn enough for ourselves,” he rues.

Kamaljit feels that concrete steps are needed to improve the situation of the craftspersons as well as to allow the intricate art to flourish.

Very few youngsters are pursuing the craft as it does not give good returns.

He suggests that a course on inlay wood craft can be started in the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). “Besides, the Central Cottage Industries Corporation of India could tag the articles with the name of the craftsman who made it to give him his due respect.” He recalls the credit war that ensued over the chest gifted to the then US President Donald Trump during his visit to India.

Vijay Dhir, Dean of Research at Baba Bhag Singh University in Jalandhar and a member of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), who hails from Hoshiarpur, feels that somewhere the blame lies with the people who have stopping connecting with their indigenous crafts. “The people of Hoshiarpur should be proud of the valuable craft heritage and the skills of the artisans,” he says, appealing to the government to lend support.

The intricate process

The first step is the tracing of designs. The pattern to be inlaid is drawn on a piece of paper and then traced on both the wood and acrylic sheet using ink. Once the patterns have been drawn, it is time for the etching, which is done with the aid of sharp knives and chisels. The grooves or gaps created in the wood are 2-3 mm deep. The artisan then cuts the acrylic sheet with sharp knives on the traced patterns. Then these small pieces of acrylic are set in the grooves inside the wood and each piece is carefully glued to the wood. The piece to be inlaid is smoothened with sandpaper and polished with lac.


The articles manufactured by the wood inlay craftsmen can be broadly classified as utility objects, decorative and display objects and musical instruments. Common items include chairs, tables, small boxes, chessboards, wall plates, elephants and other decorative pieces in various sizes.


The price of an object depends on its size and the intricacy of the motifs on it. If a small object could be priced around Rs 500, large pieces of furniture with intricate designs could cost anything around Rs 8-10 lakh and could take a year or more to complete.


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