Chandi Medha Cuttack: On the day of Mahasashthi (the sixth day of Navaratri)) the goddess Durga arrives in Cuttack (the trade center of Odisha) wearing a Mukutah (crown) of nearly 450 kilos of gleaming pure silver. If one looks closely then the intricate jaali work of Silver Filigree which makes up the crown. The intricacy and fine craftsmanship of this work are unparalleled in India…. Cuttack is very proud of its legacy and calls its art of silver filigree as Chandi Medha. I was in love with silver filigree jewelry since the time I had first set my eyes on a particular pair of earrings brought by a relative…the pair was light enough to flutter in the wind while the silver wires gleamed each time light caught them….it was my quest to understand this art that had brought me to Cuttack.
A couple of hours of interaction with the silver Jewelers in Cuttack brought to light an Interesting story. Silver filigree first entered Cuttack via Indonesian traders 500 years ago through strong trade links. The very first shops of Chandi Medha (now known as Tarakashi) started in 1956 in Chaudhary Bazaar at Cuttack. Very soon the art spread all around Cuttack and then to Bhubaneshwar before spreading its branches over other places in eastern India. However, the back breaking labor that’s involved in Tarakashi and the lack of exposure (which failed to get the craftsmen a fair price) soon began to force the artisans into other alternative modes of livelihood. Today Tarakashi is a dying art and very few jewelry lovers in India are aware of its rare exquisitely delicate beauty. Right now there are 400 odd craftsman families who still carry on this tradition.
The process sounds painful…first pure silver is melted and then fashioned into thin silver wires (the thinner the better). An artist holds a long tube into his mouth all the while directing a small flame through it which softens the wire for molding. The artisans spend many excruciating days in fashioning those wires in designs inspired by the immediate environment….flowers, birds, Konark Chakra and religious motifs.
Processes like snow glazing, granulation and casting are used to beautify the jewelry further. Sometimes platinum polishing is done and brass is fused with silver to create a golden sheen. I spoke to a silver jewelry store owner in Chaudhary Bazaar who claimed: “customers keep approaching me with modern design requests and the infusion of these elements are taking away the essence of traditional Tarakashi”. Few jewelry items that are very popular are the Odisha Kaan (a large earring that covers the entire ear), Kamar bandh (waist chain) necklaces, large rings and toe rings. Traditionally an Odiya marriage was considered incomplete without Tarakashi toe rings, anklets, and an intricately designed silver vermillion box.
The best place for getting Tarakashi jewelry in Cuttack are the shops in Chaudhary Bazar (this is the source so rates are more affordable)…Hemraj jewelers is a good one. You can also visit Bajrakbati Road that has nice stores like Radha Jewellers and Silver Linings. Bhubaneshwar and Puri shops are grander and stock this kind of filigree jewelry at much higher prices.
Large floral rings …can be used as statement pieces
Traditional floral filigree necklace and earrings. A silver chain and clasp will be used to complete the neck piece.A large Ganapati framed filigree necklace with green semi-precious stones
The traditional Odissi Kaan. These earrings are used in dance performances too.
Kamarbandhs…it takes nearly 15 days to make one!! Exquisitely beautiful jaali work that can brighten up a bridal outfit
I came back with a small box of jewelry and a heart full of memories. Wish the 400 odd artisan families around Cuttack…the resilience, and spirit needed to preserve this beautiful art!!