Sankheda furniture: Lacquered turned wood furniture
Vadodara is famous for a lot of places and artworks. One of which is the Sankheda furniture that is a form of colorful teak wood furniture of Gujarat. It is treated with lacquer and painted in traditional bright shades of maroon and gold. It is made in Sankheda village and hence has its name on the same, Sankheda Furniture. Another legend says that the furniture name is derived from the word ‘sanghedu’, which is the word for a lathe in the Gujarati language. The Sankheda village is located about 45 kilometres (28 mi) from Vadodara.
In recent years, the art form of furniture making at Sankheda has taken great turns, color innovation has been adopted with black, blue, green, ivory, copper, silver and burgundy shades. The product is not only widely marketed in India but is exported to many countries including Europe and West Asia.
Now with the adoption of chemical pigments, instead of the traditional organic dyes and pulp of kewda leaves (fragrant screw pine) as a coloring base, the palette has many colors to offer for painting the furniture. However, the “tinfoil patterns with transparent lacquer coating” is the basic traditional method which is continued, with polishing done with agate.
The product is protected under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act (GI Act) 1999 of the Government of India. It was registered by the Controller General of Patents Designs and Trademarks on 5 July 2007 under the title “Sankheda Furniture” and listed at GI Application number 100 under Class 20 on 5 July 2007 as a handicraft item.
Lacquered turned wood furniture with hand painted motifs and traditional method of ornamentation is thought to have been produced here from about 1855. In this town, about 80-100 families belonging to the “Kharadi-Suthar” community are involved in this craft.
Every year, on the ‘Maha sud Teras’ day in February, the entire ‘Kahardi-Suthar‘ community, along with the ‘Sonis’ (jewelers), ‘Luhars’ (metal workers) and ‘Kumbhars’ (potters) comes together to worship Lord ‘Vishwakarma’ , the supervisory Hindu deity of all craftsmen and architects, and celebrate and pray for the well-being of the community and the progress of their craft.
The craft is greatly respected in the region as the processes involved are close to nature and it uses Lac, a material known to man from very early times. Lac or shellac, a material available abundantly in nature, is a natural resin, produced as a result of the secretion of crimson-red tiny insects which thrive on certain trees. The ‘Palas’, or in Sanskrit, ‘Lakshataru’, or the Lac tree has been mentioned in the ‘Vedas’ (sacred texts of Hinduism). In the ‘Atharva Veda’, there is a small chapter devoted to the description of Lac insect, its habits and usefulness.
The best product of the Lacquered furniture:
‘Ghodiyun‘(cradle) is believed to be one of the first furniture items produced using this form of expression.
Religious aspect of the furniture:
Sankheda furniture is considered auspicious and is used in many religious and festive occasions. From being used as sacred pedestals for God’s idols in temples and as chairs for the bride and groom in weddings, to cradles and walkers for infants and garden swings that give a fresh touch of breeze in the hot and humid climate, the Sankheda furniture is adopted and loved in its various usages. Erstwhile Gujarati royalty have in the past gifted it to royalty and state-heads of other countries.
The making of the Sankheda Furniture:
The individual components of the furniture are made by turning the teak wood on a lathe, which is powered manually, with the help of a hand held bow. The craftsman skillfully uses chisels and gouges to shape the wood and achieves symmetric and even contours without using any measuring device or markings.
Sheets of tinfoil are pounded along with hot glue till the two become a homogenous mass which dissolves easily in water. This is harkalai, which is used to paint intricate floral and geometric patterns while turning the member. The craftsman, with great mastery of skill and geometric precision, maps the ornamental patterns free-hand, matching them perfectly, without any measurements. To enhance the luster of the painted motifs, akik (agate) stone is rubbed over the wooden member.
Clear lac, which is procured from the trees of the nearby forest, is applied to with the help of friction and heat produced by the lathe, and this lac gives the member a glowing orange color. Finally, kevda leaf is used for final finish and gloss, kevada leaf.
All the components are then assembled together with wood joinery into a single furniture piece.
Today, the craftsmen set up motorized machines indigenously as per their requirements, to turn the lathe. The use of synthetic colors and other stuff is very common nowadays.