Koftgari is a Persian art form that was popularized in India by the Mughals. It slowly caught on with the kings of Rajasthan who developed a fancy for the craft and its grandeur, and therefore this is where it eventually flourished and became an inevitable part of the state’s culture.
Today, this craft is unique to Rajasthan and is practiced mainly in the beautiful city of lakes – Udaipur. It is an overlay art that uses hair-thin precious gold and silver wires on hard metal to create the most beautiful and intricate patterns and motifs.
These motifs are so neat, precise, and exact that it makes it almost difficult to believe that they are created by hand.
While craftsmen and artisans are now evolving the craft by decorating functional items such as mirrors, photo frames, and jewelry, souvenir weapons such as knives, daggers, and small swords remain highly popular in the state for their royal beauty.
Koftgari was brought to India by the Mughals during the 16th century. Slowly, it was introduced to other parts of the Indian subcontinent that included the Rajputs too, making the art an integral part of Rajput history.
It played a key role in the grandeur of the Rajput armour and weaponry that were embellished with gold and silver and adorned with precious metals. Even though today, traditional weapons of warfare are no longer in use, they still hold an important place in the Rajput community, especially during festivals like Dussehra.
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, Koftgari was used mostly for decorating weapons and swords. However, it is in the 19th century when artisans began to expand the use of Koftgari to modern every-day objects such as vases, candlestick holders, and decorative boxes.
Koftgari designs include motifs, leaves, gods and goddesses, scenes of war, as well as Arabic inscriptions at times.
Point to note – Arabic inscriptions can be very tricky and have to be done with utmost precision. Even a slight variation in the curve can change the entire meaning of the message.
Koftgari is an intricate, labour-some, and yet artistic process which we have tried breaking down into 4 steps for easy understanding:
Step 1 – The process starts with scratching the metal surface with a knife or a blade (known as chirni) in close crosshatch patterns. These fine scratches help in creating a surface that will help to hold onto the wires.
Step 2 – Now the artist holds onto ultra-thin silver wires and begins to draw out the lines of the design. He uses a pointed tool called salai here to press the wires into the metal.
Step 3 – After the outlines, the artist fills in the motifs with closely placed gold or silver wires. There are almost no guidelines drawn and it’s amazing to see how the artist uses his precision and fluency to create his design!
Step 4 – Once the motifs/ patterns are filled in, the outer silver wires are removed, the object is heated, and finally polished with a hakek stone for a finished and sleek look.
As you can tell, Koftgari isn’t an easy craft to practice. It takes great skill, hand-eye coordination, and precious time. However, it is rather unfortunate to know that this is a dying craft, with very few artisans still holding on.