A series of artisans’ training workshops are currently being organized at Lok Virsa complex, Garden Avenue, Shakarparian under the aegis of Lok Virsa (National Institute of Folk & Traditional Heritage) and SUNGI NGO.
Three workshops under this series have already taken place whereas the fourth one is underway, which is being attended by 25 master artisans in the field of stone carving, ivory, blue pottery, bone work, bead work, mirror work, basketry and replicas.
Artisans participating in the workshop include Abdul Rashid Qureshi in bone work, Sajid Mahmood and Muhammad Jamil in blue pottery, Muhammad Kaleem and Hina Kaleem in mirror work, Zahid Hussain, Muhammad Ilyas and Aurangzeb in stone carving, Zainab, Kaneez Fatima and Hajan Fateh Bibi in basketry, Sadaf Aziz and Saima in bead work, Bashir Masih in seepi work (see shell), Hajan Ali Machee in Mohenjo-daro replica making, Muhammad Nawaz in Harappa replica making, Manzoor Ali in clay pottery and others.
Most prominent among them is Abdul Rashid Qureshi of Multan who specializes in ivory bone work. He learnt this art from his father at an early age. Qureshi has also trained many students in this art and has dedicated over 45 years of his life to keep this traditional craft alive. He has been demonstrating his skill at Lok Virsa’s annual folk festival for the past 20 years and has been honoured several times with cash awards and certificates in recognition of his talent.
Explaining details about ivory work, Lok Virsa’s executive director Khalid Javaid informed that the use of ivory in the manufacturing of handicrafts was fairly common until some decades ago, but with the sharp decline in the elephant population all over the world, ivory substitutes like plastic as well as camel bone are progressively employed for this purpose. In appearance, camel bone is so similar to ivory that shopkeepers often pass off items made from it as ivory-made.
Camel bone handicrafts range from necklaces to bracelets, earrings to paper cutters, napkin rings, key rings, cigarette holders, ball point casings and decoration objects like miniature elephants, tigers, cows, camels and so on. Ornaments like necklaces, bracelets and earrings are made using graded camel bone beads prepared on a hand lathe.
The process for turning such beads is rather simple. A bone stick of the required length and breadth, depending on the thickness of the beads to be manufactured, is first sliced from the main leg bone and slashed with a ‘dossola’ or a specially shaped axe. After its rough edges have been adequately rounded, the stick is mounted on the ‘charkha’ or wheel of the lath and expanded to meet the required thickness. The next stage involves the shaping of beads out of this stick. They are lathed into graded sizes with holes in the middle through which a flexible brass wire is passed to form necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Beads of graded thickness are used in order to impart ornaments with beauty for which they are justly famous. The arrangement of beads is such that the bigger ones occupy the centre while smaller beads are placed on either side of them.Southern Punjab, in particular Multan and to some extent Lahore, is famous for this craft.
Khalid Javaid described pottery as any article made of clay or a plastic mixture of clay and other substances hardened by the application of fire. The discovery of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa civilization of Indus Valley is of significant importance because it clearly indicates that the art of pottery had attained a high degree of perfection around 2500 BCE (Before Common Era). Later extraction at Kot Diji, a location in the same area, suggests that Pakistan’s pottery craft was even older going farther into 3000 BCE. Egypt and near east regions were the first parts of the world that developed the art of ceramics.
The pottery is made by clay dug from the earth’s surface, which is prepared by beating and kneading with hands, feet or simple mallets of stone or wood. Vessels are shaped either by hand or by using rotating potter’s wheel. The clay is raised and shaped as the potter’s wheel rotates. The piece is removed once shaped and placed under the sun to dry. When it is half-dry, it may again be centered on the wheel and carefully turned down to exact shape. The pots are completely dried in the sun before being exposed to fire, ensuring that they hold their desired shape. In Pakistan, Multan and Hala are the major centers of this craft.
Nature has blessed Pakistan with a fair variety of stone, sandstone, slate and limestone in various formations and its tradition of stone crafts stretches back into the mists of antiquity. The basis of these crafts was laid in this area when man learnt to help himself with stone, patiently beaten into the shape of a working tool or a weapon for hunting. A number of such rough and crude tools have been found in the Soan Valley of Potohar
The impact of geographical location, vegetation and availability of raw materials is always reflected in the crafts of a particular region. Stone work of ancient city of Taxila has a standing tradition of centuries and the workmanship still bears influence of the Gandhara period. The skill of stone carving involves first, the refining of the stone with a chisel and hammer. A sketch is drawn on this stone either from memory or from a photograph and then carved, again with the help of a chisel and hammer. Finishing touches are given with sandpaper.