On the banks of river Narmada (Madhya Pradesh, Central India), amidst forests, there is a small locality of craftsmen, who make lacquered wooden articles. This is Budhni Ghat, where soft wood spins on the lathe from morning to twilight, metamorphosing into beautiful objects and shapes. The Budhni craftsmen, who have been practicing the craft for generations, belong to the Vishwakarma community.
They elaborate wood work for both utilitarian and architectural purpose. They work primarily on making toys, cradle frames, wooden temples, flower vases and other home decor. Spinning broken branches on lathe machine, use of naturally obtained lac-base colors, later handcrafted items are polished with a blend of khajur leaf and oil.
Combination of dried kewada leaf and oil is also used to add shine to them. In order to improvise their field they have incorporated the use of bright flourescent colors and new designs. All these efforts of the artisans give them a mesmerizing look.
Earlier, the lathe was run manually. diesel power was introduced 60 years back. Nowadays, cleaner energy is used and the machines are run on electricity. Simple chisels and gouges help to carve out shapes on the soft wood while it spins and while it is still on the lathe, the colour is applied. Artificial dyes, brought from Rajasthan, have replaced natural colours in the lacquer work.
An important ingredient in the process, a kind of wax, known as “Chapdi” is sourced from Maharashtra. This wax is boiled with “Chandrak”, a natural varnishing agent and the dye is added in, to prepare the lacquer paste. Once the coloured lacquer is dried after application on the wood, it is polished with Kewda oil for a smooth and shiny finish.
Budhni lacquer work was much regarded and popular in the pre-independence times when the Nawab of Sehore promoted the craft. The influx of cheap plastic and rising prices of wood left the craftsmen with low returns on their expertise and hard work.
Today, the craftsmen try to incorporate the bright fluorescent colours of plastic in their lacquer products to keep the customer interested.
After all these years of relentless competition, this small street of Budhni Ghat still sustains an age old craft all because of the ingenuity of these wood lacquer craftsmen. While the Kutch (Gujarat, West India) lacquer work is strong and sturdy due to the hard babool wood used, Budhni products are soft and delicate.
Both Kutchh and Budhni lacquer crafts are vivid and glossy; the ones from Budhni do not have any patterns, but have bold, solid colours.
“BUDHNI WOODS” is the brand name for rural tourism in Madhya Pradesh. This small village stores tons of raw material for making variety of handicraft items. In order to rejuvenate the lost battles of wooden craft culture of this place, Wood Craft Budhni are providing the platform for artisans.
The influence of artificial items and rise in wood prices has left artisans with low returns on their expertise, as the demand is less, business has also slowed down.
Presently the art is also at the verge of losing its identity. The artistans here are struggling to provide their children even the basic needs. In order to bring back the wooden lacquer art to life, Wood Craft Budhni are doing considerable efforts to keep the trade a doable business for the artisans.