Urgent Need To Upgrade Hupari Silversmiths
Hupari, a small town nestled in the Kolhapur district of Maharashtra, India, is home to nearly 25,000 silver artisans. Jewellery blogger and designer Prernaa Makhariaa narrates her experience of a recent excursion to Hupari as part of the Women’s Jewellery Association (WJA) India.
Womens Jewellery Association, India (WJA India) India along with the Gem & Jewellery Skill Council of India (GJSCI) sent a small team of designers and jewellery manufacturers to Hupari, a small town near Kolhapur, Maharashtra, which is renowned for its silver jewellery ornaments. It has been the endeavour of WJA and GJSCI to identify pockets in India where artisans still practise age-old crafts. It is important to understand how to amalgamate the work of these artisans into contemporary jewellery. This will not only keep their skills alive, but the symbiotic relationship will also help them upgrade their technological acumen to produce pieces of finer quality. The benefits of such tie-ups can be exponential. It would not be wrong to say that nearly half the population of Hupari (it is estimated that 65,000 villagers live there) is engaged in making handcrafted silver jewellery, especially anklets (payals).
The one-day tour was an eye-opener for us. We watched the entire process, from the processing of raw material to the finished product. Although some of the methods were rudimentary, they have been time tested and have helped artisans to sustain and maintain their jewellery and article output.
Silver inbound and purity testing – Raw silver bars, sheets or jewellery are given to the karigar by his client. He tests the purity with various chemicals and keeps an account of it.
Silver refining – Once the accounting is done, that same raw silver is put in a furnace of approximately 3,000°C temperature. Certain alloys are added to achieve the desired purity.
Metal rods and sheets – The molten silver is poured into linear cavities of varying sizes to solidify. Once the metal cools down, these silver rods are passed through a rolling machine numerous times until they turn into thin silver strips of different gauges/thickness as required.
Components manufactured – As per the design and its components, these thin wires/sheets again undergo a stamping and punching process to get the desired design and shape.
Layout and assembly – Once each component is collected in separate bowls, the artisans lay these over in a tray full of evenly spread wood ash collected from the bakery. Once the components are laid over wood ash, they are then soldered with fire. Many women living in this village work part-time on silver products and help the men to link and assemble the components. For instance, an anklet goes through almost six rounds of soldering and assembly until the final product is ready. It was a pleasure to meet these artisans. It’s not very often that you find such a talented, exciting and humble group of people, who have the zest to grow. After observing the manufacturing process, we headed to Shanta Ramkrishna Dattar School & Parisanna Ingrole Junior College, Hupari. Nearly 100 experienced and budding artisans gathered there to share their experiences and the challenges they face.
Creating new and innovative designs is a challenge for these Hupari artisans. For years, they have been working on the same motifs. They have limited exposure and require greater knowledge and awareness about the latest designing skills. They need to be well-equipped and kept abreast of the latest digital platforms. A team of dedicated designers and instructors could show them how to search the internet for different genres of jewellery in order to get inspired.
The Hupari artisans are still working with the same traditional processes that are obsolete today. Their expertise lies in handcrafted jewellery, but they could make use of modern machinery to aid their innovation process. The jewellery components are not all made in Hupari. For example, a part of the anklet is made in Salem, Tamil Nadu, and the other components come from Agra, Rajkot and the other strong silver jewellery markets. These components are then assembled/soldered in Hupari. If the artisans are taught to upgrade their skills and learn to make other components, their income could increase substantially. The lack of adequate opportunities in Hupari and better prospects in Kolhapur city has resulted in almost half the karigars shifting base. Consequently, we may lose artisans of great calibre. Another major reason for their decline is the loss of consumer interest in certain jewellery categories. For instance, anklets are not very popular these days as they have lost some of their relevance. It is believed that children were made to wear anklets in the past so that mothers, even if busy doing household chores, could pay attention as the anklets would chime due to the body movement. The way the anklets chimed also indicated if the child had a problem walking, or had flat feet and so on. If an in-depth study on these issues could be made, artisans felt that a category like anklets could regain popularity. Such is the calibre of these Hupari artisans, that they export handcrafted jewellery to Pakistan, Bangkok and other countries. India is a vast country with talented artisans waiting to be tapped and nurtured.
Words can’t describe how enriching my experience was. It was extremely inspiring especially for the designer in me. Lots of ideas were swirling in our heads as we came back, thinking all the while about newer innovation, design and product line.
Jewellery and work was not the only thing on the menu. After visiting the factory and a one
on one session with the artisans we had a wholesome spicy kolhapuri lunch organised by
To Get To Hupari : From Mumbai, we boarded the train, Mahalaxmi Express and reached Shree Chatra Shahu Maharaj Terminus (Kolhapur station) at approx 7.45 am (an overnight train journey from Mumbai) and checked into hotel Maratha Regency. We quickly freshened up and at about 9.45 am
left for Hupari which was approx 30 mins away.
Thank You Solitaire International for sharing my experience.