Lucknow's art of metal engraving, naqqashi, is as captivating as its fine intricacies.
The Nawabs of Awadh have left behind a strikingly unique culture and the city of Lucknow has found its own contemporary way to keep it alive, through the tides of times. While some like chikankari have gained popularity, others have remained so exclusively in Lucknow, that you need to trudge through the narrow lanes of the city's Yahiyaganj to trace their existence. We are talking about the art of repoussé or naqqashi- the technique to engrave metal and trust us when we say, it is as captivating as it is intricate.
Etched in silver, forever and ever
Although you can find antique utensils anywhere, you will never find something as intricate as the Lakhnawi naqqashi utensils. From lavish designs to simple engravings, naqqashi has the potential to add to the charms of silver and copper minted as utensils. In yesteryears, this Nawabi artform found a canvas in Paandaans, Khaasdaans and Ughaldaans and these continue to glorify Lucknow's ethnicity.
Traditionally, the art was practised regally on metals such as silver, copper or brass but today, the art is surviving through contemporary alterations. Naqqashi carvings can also be found on aluminium and steel. Neighbouring districts of Mathura and Moradabad have also backed Lucknow artisans to keep this art alive. All raw materials are imported to the city from these regions. The technique is painstakingly tedious and requires the artisan to beat the metal continually with chisels and hammers, till it dents in the design. Iron slabs and paper stencils are also used to carve out beautiful designs.
Though the carvings remain timeless, time is catching up to the art. Diminishing with each passing day, naqqashi can now only be found in some cultural centres of Lucknow, where Yahiyaganj remains a prominent spot. The snaking lanes of this locale will charm you into its depth, reflecting the imperial pride in all its vibrancy.
Lucknow's naqqashi artisans have been reduced to a counted few as market demands continue to fail them. People now are only fascinated by handmade products but have no intent of buying these for their households. As new, convenient and cheaper products fill in the market, naqqashi's engraving and time-taking manufacturing process fall short to keep up with machine alternatives.