About twenty kilometers from the city of Kolhapur lies Hupari, the famous Silver Nagari of India. With a population close to thirty thousand, the majority of the village has been involved in making silver jewelry since the last century! The region was well known since the 13th century for its silver jewelry industry. However, the locals believed that business got its real boost only after the temple of Ambabai was constructed around the mid-1500s. The craft got constant encouragement during the reign of Shahu Maharaja of Kolhapur. Having a deep interest in the traditional craft forms, Shahu Maharaja is said to have encouraged a wide genre of crafts including this and the famous kolhapuri chappal. The place saw a steady boost owing to continuous demand from the royal family. However, the real story originated in 1904 AD when Krishnaji Ramchandra sonar shifted his attention from gold to silver. Over the years, the business has grown and evolved slowly with more families coming into the trade and expertise increasing slowly until the small village of Hupari became synonymous with the silver jewelry hub of India.
With an estimated annual turnover of INR 1000 cr and an annual growth of five percent, about seventy-five percentage of the village is into the jewelry trade. The specialty of Huari are the payals, challe, and kaddore. It is the only production unit for the seamless silver balls commonly known as gujrav or ghungroos. Nowhere in India is this particular piece being made, and Hupari exports these balls in large numbers to the other jewelry hubs in India.
The four traditional types of Hupari payals that are being produced are Rupali, Sonya, Gajashree and Gajashree chum-chum. Rupali is the simplest payal with a single chain and rectangular loops that hold the chain very firmly. The Sonya payal has a characteristic V-shaped bead locked into a single chain to which ghungroo balls are attached. The Gajashree payal is an advanced version of the Rupali, having two parallel chains instead of one. The Gajashree chum-chum is a special variety made especially for children and bears characteristic simple loops and ghungroos. Some of the motifs that are used to make the payals are Koyna (mango shaped motif), Pankha (wings of birds), Topi (round and circular like a hat), Shankh (conch shaped) and Pari (smooth triangular motif inspired by marine corals).
The procedure of making jewelry starts with the manufacturers procuring raw silver in the form of bricks. This is then sent for purity checking in the only chemical testing laboratory in the entire village. A small amount of silver is cut from the brick; this piece known as Tunch is subjected to further chemical tests which judge the purity of the metal. The extent of purity is judged by the color of the final solution obtained- a pure sample would produce a clear solution with a muddy precipitate whereas impure samples tend to produce a reddish-brown tinge. Once checked, every brick is being issued a purity certificate by the laboratory.
After testing, the bricks are sent for melting and alloying. The silver is mixed with the requisite amount of copper and zinc according to the buyer’s demand. This is being done to give strength to the alloy which will be used for minute craftwork. The metal is molted in ceramic containers and is solidified into alloy rods by pouring them into wooden molds used especially for the same. This alloy is then taken to the pressing workshop for making Pasta out of them. Pasta is a black, flat and thick wire which is made from the alloy by pressing the alloy rods through a series of rollers to give the required thickness to the silver. Produced in a range of eighteen to twenty-two gauge, these flat wires would be used further to carve out the design of the payal.
A certain part of the Pasta is further pressed to produce thin silver wires of various diameter according to necessity. The entire work of pressing is being done with special machines in dedicated workshops where skilled male laborers are engaged in the job. The procedure of converting the pasta into silver wires is called Mati cutting. Once the wires are given a sheen and polish, they are cut and molded by special machines into small loops or Kadi and tiny silver balls to be placed inside the ghungroos for making the characteristic payal sound. Once the individual kadi, silver ball and the outer seamless cover is being made by women working with utmost precision, it is fused under a soft flame to produce one complete ghungroo.
The wires are further used to make chains of various patterns and designs by interlocking small loops of various designs together. The designs of the payals are being done by dyes specially made and imported from Rajkot. The dye is inserted into the machine which rolls and stamps the pasta with the design. Once the individual pieces were cut, they were joined by soldering them individually to form a single chain.
Once the individual components are made, they are assembled to make the final product. A special glue called morchud (made out of a local component called takankhaar and zink) is used to stick the individual parts together to form the payal. Once the parts are set, the payals are shouldered using acetyl powered flame. The payals are cleaned using acetic acid after the final shouldering is done. The complete payals are then outsourced to the local shop for electroplating. There is only one electroplating establishment for the entire village, and all the assignments are being handled by a single person who owns the same. It takes around two hours to electroplate an assignment weighing about ten kilograms.
The electroplated payals are then polished inside the vibrator. Locally available shampoos are being used along with fiber balls for polishing the payals to give them the necessary shine and sheen. Once rinced, the product is exposed under sunlight for about half an hour to encourage oxidization. After a final round of cleaning, the payals are colored black using camel ink. They are then carefully packed and sent for sale.
A portion of the jewelry also undergoes the traditional Meenakari treatment. Practiced commonly to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the product, only one family in the present day Hupari is associated with the same. It is done using triple zero brushes and special colors known commonly as Meena Casting Colors. Once colored, they are kept inside a hot box to facilitate quick drying. Sunlight is also used during the summer time for drying purposes. The Meenakari variety holds a higher demand and is more expensive than the normal jewelry.
A variety of motifs like Pan, Badam, and Kamani-nakshi that are being developed in Hupari is used in Kolhapur to manufacture ornate vessels and utensils. Other than payals, a variety of products including toe rings, silver figurines, glasses, Chattris, Tamaan (puja thalis), bowls and plates are also made here. Of late, the production of oxidized jewelry including necklace, earrings, kaddas, and others have also been started to stay at par with the latest market trends.
Post World War II, a number of skilled workers from the area came together to form the Hupari Chandi Karkhandar (Udhyojak) Association. The main aim of the co-operative was to encourage the development of the craft and to promote its growth by actively supporting new-comers in the industry and helping new entrepreneurial initiatives to succeed. The association was successful in erecting their own administrative building in 1972, and by the late 1990s, they were successful in bringing their hard work to the attention of the central government. In 2001, the association was allotted a 200 acre land in the Kagal, Hathkanangle industrial area which was declared as the Silver Zone, Hupari. Following the village’s participation in the Silver Exhibition hosted by the central government in New Delhi in 2001, the Silver Nagari Cluster Yojna was certified and stamped by the central government by 2007.
The craft took a serious hit during the demonetization drive of 2016. Craftsmen, laborers, and traders were forced to sit idle in their homes owing to lack of work even in the peak festive season. Businessmen who bought new and latest motifs from the market to stay afloat in the market incurred severe losses owing to an absence of any work.
Indigenous crafts such as the silver jewelry of Hupari holds special relevance in weaving the local fabric of cultural legacies of India. Many small instances like these come together to weave the larger fabric- the traditional legacy of the old India- one which is still surviving and keeping the legacy of handmade crafts strong in the country. It is these small instances which make our country special, these small clusters hold special significance in making India incredible, and as such, demand constant help and support from both the government and community to grow and flourish.
About the Author: Shubhayan Modak is a graduate architect from Dept. of Architecture, Town & Regional Planning, Indian Institute of Engineering Science & Technology, Shibpur. He is passionate about visiting places and exploring the local rituals, cultures, traditions, and people and believes that buildings evolve hand in hand over time with its users. For him, perspectives and cultures take the physical shape of architecture. He has served as the convenor & editor-in-chief of Indian Arch ’16, the annual student’s journal of National Association of Students of Architecture, India. Being someone who has always supported peace and prosperity over the likes of war, bullets, and bloodshed, he chose to design a Siachen High Altitude Research Facility for his UG thesis as a means to stop the ceasefire situation atop the Siachen Glacier. Currently working as a design journalist based in Kolkata, he constantly motivates architects and architecture students to write. He is the winner of the A3F Architectural Journalism Award 2017 and is the co-founder of Sthapatya, a journalism platform which uses local language as a means to increase the interaction between the architectural fraternity and the common populace in the country. He can be contacted here.