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The area that is now Uttar Pradesh was the setting of two great ancient Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. However, like much of India, Uttar Pradesh was ruled by a series of Muslim dynasties from about 1200 to 1775. The Mughal Dynasty left a large and visible mark on Uttar Pradesh.

Among the most striking examples of Mughal heritage are the many beautiful buildings that were constructed in the Mughal style, not just the Taj Mahal, the Fort of Agra, but also the town of Fatehpur Sikri and a number of other lovely works. 

The melding of Persian and Indian styles created some of the world’s best-known monuments. Even though the dynasty was overthrown, their techniques and usage of various local materials still lives on. In this article we explore the traditional art of bone carving , glass blowing and a historic city built in red sandstone that is unique to Uttar Pradesh.

Glass Blowing

Firozabad is located in western Uttar Pradesh, 40 km from Agra, at the northern edge of the Deccan Plateau.The history of glass making in Firozabad dates back to the Mughal era, when the then rulers brought artists from Persia to the small town in today’s Uttar Pradesh and they set up shop in Firozabad to craft all sorts of glassware spittoons, dishes, vessels, bottles and other artifacts.

The city is one of the leading manufacturers and exporters of glass; nearly 50% of the glass production is exported.Most of the units in the city run twenty-four hours. They use a pot furnace, regenerative tank furnace or fully automatic furnace for making glassware.

Firozabad has been producing glass for more than 200 years now and is the biggest manufacturer of glass bangles in the world.

The first two use natural gas burners instead of coal and are made of firebricks. The product range includes bangles, bottles, plates, containers, bulb shells, toys, vases etc. These are made only on order. The most familiar type of glass used for centuries in windows and drinking vessels is soda-lime glass, composed of about 75% silica, sodium oxide, calcium oxide and several minor additives. The process of making industry-based glass products goes through two different processes — glass blowing and manual finishing processes.

The molten glass transforms in the hand of these amazingly-skilled craftsmen to artefacts that one does not discard away, but preserve for a second use or as a collection. In a world dominated by one-time use, cheap materials with very low value, glass stands out as a highly-valued collectible material.

Glass Blowing is used to produce various products such as lamps, glasses, chemically used test tubes and beakers, bangles, statues, toys, plates etc.

Manual Process:

A stream of molten glass, at its plastic temperature (1050°C-1200°C), is cut with a shearing blade to form a cylinder of glass, called a gob. The process starts with the gob falling, by gravity, and guided into the blank moulds, two halves that are clamped shut.

The artisan then blows air into the hollow pipe from the other end to make the glass take the shape of the mould. Water is sprinkled over the mould to cool it off after every piece. The vessel is then picked up from the mould and kept cool. As glass cools, it shrinks and solidifies. Uneven cooling causes weak glass due to stress and break. For even cooling, these are kept into an annealing oven that heats the container to about 580°C then cools it.

Glass is melted in several pots made of refractory materials which are resistant to glass attack at high temperatures. 

Glass Fusing

Glass-fusing is another very interesting process to make products that require fine detailing. The basic raw materials include ‘Chinese glass’ (borosilicate glass that melts at a higher temperature than ordinary silicate glass), natural gas and oxygen burners, iron tong, carbon base (that doesn’t burn with heat) and golden polish (to highlight the features of the figurines). After melting and fusing glass into the product that is being made, the artisans paint it golden and send it for another round of firing that fuses the gold with the glass.

Fusing tiny glass beads to decorate a glass ring

Bone Carving

Bone carving is an art of carving the animal bones or horns and creating intricate pieces of artwork. Lucknow since the times of Nawabs has been an important centre for ivory or bone carving. Skilled craftsmen used to make decorative and functional products for the Nawabs of Awadh. Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh emerged as a main centre of ivory carving due to the patronization of the craft by the Nawabs. After the ban on ivory, artisans have been carving on camel and buffalo bone with great skill.The craving process involves the following steps:

Intricate jail designs on bone
  • Cutting:The bone once brought from the market is cut into desired pieces. Firstly the upper layer is removed by scraping and then cutting is done using Basuli. These cut pieces are further shaped using a cutting machine. Bone smells during the cutting and buffing. Apart from this it doesn’t smell afterward.
Discarded bones are procured from butchers
  • Cleaning:After cutting the bone is boiled in hot water along with soda. This helps in removing the fat and other greasy elements from the surface of the bone. Boiling process continues for 3-4 hours. It also helps in removing the foul smell to some extent.
  • Bleaching: After cleaning, the bone is dipped in a solution of hydrogen peroxide and kept in the sun for 6-7 hours. This helps in whitening the bone.
Soaking in hydrogen peroxide
  • Carving:Bones are cut in desired shapes and stuck/ joined together with the help of adhesive (fevicol). After drying, marking is done with the help of a compass. Holes are made using a drilling machine and then the carving starts by hand using different tools.Finishing:After carving, the product is buffed. This brings shine to the product. The intricate pieces are also sometimes dyed in different colours as per the requirement.

The whole process of processing the bone, carving and finishing takes at least 4-5 days.

Artisan working with bones

UNESCO Heritage Site Built Using One Material

Sandstone in Fatehpur Sikri: Fatehpur Sikri is a fortified city situated 37kms from Agra, Uttar Pradesh. It was founded by Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1569 as the capital of the Mughal Empire. The entire city was built from red sandstone between 1571- 1585, quarried from the same rocky outcrop on which it is situated. Sandstone, simply put, is sand cemented together into rock.With craftsmen hailing from Gujarat, Bengal and local stone carvers, the red sandstone architecture of Fatehpur Sikri is an amalgamation of Hindu, Jain and Islāmic styles.

Whats interesting in this planned city is the use of one material for building all the components.

The architecture and design conceived showcases the versatility of sandstone in all its glory. The stone has been used for everything ranging from windows and roofs to decorative brackets. Apart from these structural elements, the stone has also been used to create niches and screens which are vital to the aesthetics of the place. The use of internal wall surfaces, with niches as an active functional and decorative element, can be seen in all residential structures in the complex. Most openings other than doors were screened with intricately-carved stone work using geometric and floral patterns. Apart from carvings, stone-inlay work is extensively used in Fatehpur Sikri. Stones are cut and placed to form geometric patterns or floral designs.

Intricate cornices carved out of sand stone line the columns at Fatehpur Sikri

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