Lac Jewellery of Bihar


The main industry for lac is centred in Bihar and involves five million people, mainly local, aboriginal tribals. The Hindu lac bangle workers belong to the hereditary caste called Laheri or Lakhera, who live in Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. In northern Bihar about one hundred tons of refuse lac (called kiri) which remains in the sack after squeezing, is used for bangle cores and the better quality lac is used for decoration. Lac bangles are worn by married women of the aboriginal tribal people of Bihar including Bhumij, Mo, Munda, Oraon and Santal tribes. The lac bangles have an inner-core or greenish-brown refuse lac, which is covered by a relatively thin layer of better quality coloured lac. Core lac is strengthened by a filler like white clay (safed mitti) or talc powder (abrak). Purer lac that covers the core is mixed with lithopone a white opacifying agent/pigment consisting of zinc sulphide and barrium sulphate with a colouring pigment. The dry ingredients are heated, mixed together, kneaded and pounded with a mallet, a process repeated until the mass is a homogenous, dough-like lump (dala). After further heating and shaping, the lac is stretched and the diameter is reduced to bangle thickness and finished by rolling across a flat surface with a flat shaping tool (hatta). The bangle-lengths are then cut and sometimes the long lac rod is wound spirally on a wooden forming mandrel. The spiral turns are cut and the results are shaped into a bangle. Shapes are done by pressing the lac length into coloured grooves on each side of a wooden forming block or mould (khali). The lac is forced into the groove with the hatta to take on the shape of the groove. The ends are joined to form the bangle. Muthiya a conically tapered shaping mandrel corresponds to women's bangle sizes and the lac is shaped into bangles on this. Separate narrow lac bangles (chudian) are often worn in a set or mutha or joined together as unit or bandhachuri. Patterns are created flat or stamped in relief in lac coloured differently from the base. Several colours are combined to form a cloud or marbleised pattern (abrikam). Small stamped metallic units or patterned metal strips are heated and fixed to the base. Glass beads, decorative wire, small bits of geometrically shaped or flower shaped mirrors are used as embellishments; they are also decorated with gold foil, wire and glass seed beads.

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