F for Filigree

F for Filigree

The handmade silver filigree work from Cuttack in Odisha looks like intricate lace-like designs on silver. It is called ''Tarakasi" in Odia. Cuttack is famous globally as ‘The Silver City’ due to this.

Silver filigree as a craft has been linked to Cuttack since the reign of Anangabhimadeva III in the early 13th century CE. Archaeological finds in ancient Mesopotamia indicate that filigree was incorporated into jewellery since 3,000 BCE.

This jewellery is made by stretching silver into thin wires, which the artisan then patiently and laboriously turns into elegant designs, adding spirals, webs and curls as he shapes a silver filigree masterpiece.

Artisans bend silver wires into different sizes and join them using the heat of fire to create designs. Even though they look hand-carved, they are actually moulded by hand, bit by bit, strip by strip. Somewhat similar to how hand quilling is done, each silver wire is painstakingly moulded into a design.

The main components that go into making silver filigree are silver, copper, zinc and cadmium. Different grades of silver are used in the main metal alloy; copper was traditionally mixed with the silver in a 90:10 ratio for the desired alloy needed for the creation of filigree designs.

Copper is added to increase the strength of the metal, while zinc is used in the solder metal to reduce the melting point of the alloy and increase its strength. Cadmium was a recent addition to the solder and was added to reduce the melting point of the alloy and to increase its durability. Tin is used to lower the melting point.

The jewellery of Odissi dancers include armlets made of silver filigree work and Odia brides are said to be incomplete without the Tarakasi toe rings and anklets as they are considered auspicious.

Every year, during Durga Puja in Cuttack, Tarakasi jewellery is used at many pandals to embellish the idols of Durga.

Since filigree work requires quite a lot of fire and heat, more often than not, the craftsmen in Cuttack work out of small and cramped workshop spaces. Many artisans prefer to do most of their production in the winter months.

This intricate craft is fashioned into a number of things from jewellery and idols to utility items and exquisite showpieces. The possibilities seem endless. Some interesting things you can pick up in this craft form are decorative pieces of Lord Krishna’s chariot and Konark Chakra, if you don’t want to stick just to jewellery.

An application seeking Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Cuttack Silver filigree (Chandi Tarakasi) has been filed by the Odisha State Cooperative Handicrafts Corporation Ltd. A GI tag for silver filigree will act as a universal mark to establish the presence of the craft in the national and international markets.

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Chinmaya Udghosh