Charming Jhunjhunu: Making of Lac Bangles (Shekhawati style)

In our country, cities of Hyderabad (Telangana), Firozabad (Uttar Pradesh), Lakhisarai (Bihar) and Shekhawati (Rajasthan) are famous for the production of Lac bangles. Therefore, I was carrying a desire to see its manufacturing process in Jhunjhunu. The attendant at the RTDC advised us to visit the market (near Khetri Palace), where we can find the craftsmen of this trade. With this advice, we came out of the RTDC in search of any public transport.

We observed that Jhunjhunu had a different type of auto-rickshaw. Though it had three-wheels and the normal black-yellow paint, its size, shape, engine, decoration and the ride quality were different than the one found in Delhi.. It was narrower in width and smaller in length, as compared to the auto-rickshaws of Delhi. All such auto-rickshaws were highly decorated with all paraphernalia including velvet-cushioned seat and CD player etc. The engine appeared to be from the Enfield Bullet motorcycles and so it had the usual thumping sound of the bullet. The ride quality was bumpy, especially on the uneven surfaces and at inclines it climbed with great difficulty.

Jhunjhunu Auto-rickshaw

Jhunjhunu Auto-rickshaw

As we had not seen such auto-rickshaws before, we hired one for taking us to the old market. The market, with its labyrinth of narrow streets, is a part of old Jhunjhunu. With its colourful look, it is itself a treat to watch. One finds almost everything there. Spices, grains, clothes and what not! After crossing those narrow streets in our hired auto-rickshaw, we realized the reasons of its narrow chassis and slim body. Anything wider cannot ply in those streets. Majority of the auto-rickshaws had one helper in addition to the driver. The role of the helper was to get down and go in front of the auto-rickshaw for clearing/minding the traffic so that the rickshaw could proceed further. It was an amazing sight. Anyway, after negotiating a few turns, we reached the area where the craftsmen of lac bangles were concentrated. I hope that the street must have a name to it. But, in the melee and din of the market I could not register its name. In one small shop, a family of craftsmen was working. They agreed to show us the complete process of bangles making. In return, my wife agreed to purchase a set of bangles for her personal use.

The lac fixed on the wooden handle

The lac fixed on the wooden handle

The entire process was manual with the help of small tools. First of all, they prepared the raw lac for the product by melting it. During melting process, it is constantly stirred so as to get a uniform consistency. They added some chemical powder to the semi-molten lac, but did not let us know the name or details of the mixture. The melted lac is finally fixed to a wooden stick/handle. At room temperature, the lac soon turns into the solid state. It looks brown in colour. By looking at its brown colour, I was curious to know how the bangles of different colours are made from such lac.

Tool for applying colour to the lac

Tool for applying colour to the lac

Soon I came to know that the colours are applied to the lac during the process of bangle-making. There were different wooden handles for different colours. At that time, the craftsman was making a bangle in deep-violet colour. So, he was using a wooded handle fixed with lac in deep-violet colour. The coloured lac should also be heated while applying the colour. The expertise in colour application is achieved when the craftsmen are able to apply the same consistency of colour to the entire length of the bangle.

The art of rolling of the bangle

The art of rolling of the bangle

In modern times, these craftsmen use a custom-made iron table with a flat surface on top. In the middle, the table had a coal-burner. Two of the craftsmen sit on the either side of the table. If one of them rolls the lac, the other one measures its diameter and then joins the end to make a perfect round. For rolling the lac, it was heated over the coal burner. At the appropriate molten state, it was rolled with the help of a flat wooden surface. At regular intervals, the desired colour was applied to the rolled lac upto its entire length for one bangle at a time. I was curious to know how they anticipate the exact length of rolled lac for different sizes of the bangles to satisfy each category and age of the clients.

Cutting of the rolled lac

Cutting of the rolled lac

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I can only say that with experience the craftsmen know the exact length required for different sizes of the bangles. Anyway, the rolled lac is cut gently with the help of a scissor. It has to be done when the lac is still hot and in semi-molten consistency. If it gets hardened, it will become useless for making that bangle. After cutting the roll, it was handed over to the second craftsman sitting across the table for measuring its size and joining the ends.

Measuring of the lac bangles

Measuring of the lac bangles

The second craftsman was using another cylindrical wooden device for measuring the diameters. It also had a metal measure fixed at the desired diameter. This device was tapering at the top end. It means that for lower diameters the measure had to be slided down and for higher diameters it has to be fixed up. The wooden cylinder had markings for the standard diameters. The craftsman had to measure each and every bangle for its size failing which it becomes useless. If the length of the rolled lac was more than the required, it had to be cut again to proper size. But, if the length of the rolled lac is less than the desired size, it had to be discarded.

Joining the ends

Joining the ends

If the second craftsman was satisfied with the measurement, his next function was to join the two ends of the rolled lac to make it into a bangle. For this, he brought both the ends of the rolled lac over the coal-burner and heated it for appropriate state of melting. The lac then binds itself and both ends join together. However, to make the joining spot invisible to the naked eyes, the craftsman had to rub off the uneven surfaces and make it smooth. He used a wooden handle for that function. Now, the bangle of the basic shape and size was made. It was handed over to another set of craftsmen for designing and sticking of semi-precious or artificial stones/glass pieces so as to make it attractive.

Beautification of the bangle

Beautification of the bangle

The process of beautification of the lac bangle required a very high level of precision. Each bead or each of the glass pieces has to be put to the bangle individually. Then each pattern also needed to be scrupulously followed in each of the bangles of the set. For attaching the beads etc. to the bangles, they are heated on the flat iron surface over the coal-burner. A hot bead can easily melt the lac surface of the bangle and gets itself fixed on it. The efforts of those artists, who sat or squat for hours in a row with full concentration, for making a set of bangles is really worth appreciating. Thus, after going through a completely manual process, the bangles are ready to be packed in sets and to be shipped out to the glittering shops in malls.
I have yet to see the manufacturing process of Hyderabad or Firozabad. But, standing in complete silence in Jhunjhunu, I was just thinking about the combined efforts of the industrious craftsmen of Shekhawati, who produce millions of bangles every year.

  • AJAY SHARMA

    It was great to know the entire process of bangle making through such a tedious process. Also, I appreciate your patience & keenness.

    Keep traveling
    Ajay

    • Uday Baxi

      Dear Ajay ji

      Thanks a lot for an encouraging comment.
      Glad to know that your liked the post.

      Regards

  • If those streets are for one way traffic? An unique post on a quite different subject. Interesting to read about the whole process. How is the annual turnover of such a small craftsman?

    Thanks for writing on such subject and sharing with us, Uday!

    • Uday Baxi

      Dear Anupam
      The streets were free for all. One auto had to wait at any nook and corner of the congested lane in order to let the other pass.
      Unfortunately, I did not interview the craftsman on the annual turnover. May be I shied away!

      Anyway, nice to know that you liked the post.

      Regards

  • Archana Ravichander

    Different subject and neat narration. Thanks Uday for this post.
    Were you allowed to take a video of the bangle making? If yes and if you have by any chance taken the video, please add it to this post. It will be great to watch it. Ofcourse, the photos are doing justice to the post as well :)

    Best

    • Uday Baxi

      Dear Archana

      Yes, once they agreed to show us the process for taking photographs and to learn, there was no hindrance from their side for taking video. But, somehow, this idea did not click in mind then. We were simply happy to take pictures and to satisfy our curiosity.

      Thanks for liking the post and encouragement.

      Regards

  • Pravesh

    Great Writeup Uday Ji,

    I have been to Firozabad once & could saw the bangles making, but it was mostly glass bangles.

    It was great to know the process of making of Lac bangles.

    These Autos are fun to travel in. I could find them in many cities of rajasthan – Jodhpur, Bikaner, Nagaur, Alwar & many more.

    Keep writing….

    • Uday Baxi

      Dear Pravesh ji

      Yes. Firozabad is mainly for glass bangles. I was also fortunate to be there and to see the glass bangles. At that time, I did not record its process. But, there were many such craftsmen producing bangles of all types everywhere.

      Regarding Auto ride, it was a fun to begin with. However, in steep inclines, it did not get along well. Actually, it was our first experience to ride one of them. In Alwar, we had mainly relied upon the humble manual rickshaws. In Jodhpur, I had used a car. Other places like, Bikaner and Naguar etc., I have not yet been to.

      Thanks for liking the post and encouraging further.

      Regards

  • sajal sameet

    Great uday,presentation is outstanding..keep it up.

    • Uday Baxi

      Thanks Sajal
      Good to see your comments here.

  • Kaveri

    As the name says- Jhunjhunu, the auto rickshaw and colorful vibes perfectly matched the name.
    I have enjoyed the making process of lac bangles as they are my favorite kind. The alluring out product of this process is famous all around.

    Appreciate the fine craftsmanship of our country.

    Thank you for sharing. :-)

    • Uday Baxi

      Thanks for comments.

      Glad to know that you liked the post.

      Best wishes

  • So you are all set for a smoother conversation on the topic of ‘next trip planning’ at home.

    • Uday Baxi

      Ha Ha.

      I wish so..

      Anyway, thanks a lot.

      Regards