Bone-carving is an old tradition in India, though ivory - till its use was legally prohibited about two decades ago - was the material most commonly used. As early as the 6th century A.D., Baraha Mihir, an important astronomer and mathematician, also interested in architecture and furniture design, mentions in his treatise on furniture that bedsteads made of timbers beneficial to mankind should preferably have carved ivory floral panels to enhance their beauty (Prahbas Sen, Crafts of West Bengal, Mapin, Ahmedabad, 1994, p.136). The sound of a conch-shell being blown is one of the enduring sounds of prayer in Hindu households and temples; equally enduring are a large number of items that are part of tradition and ritual, or of a decorative ethos that continues. Items as disparate as conch shell bangles (shankha)
worn by Bengali brides, ivory figarines and chessmen, and combs made of horn are familiar in every day life.
Mushtaq Ahmad, who carves items out of camel bone, hails from Lucknow. His son Ashtaq Ahmad says that the choice of camel bone stems chiefly from the limitations created by the banning of ivory. Father and son represent a large group of artisans affected by the ban on ivory, most of whom have continued to practice their craft using other materials. Mushtaq Ahmad used to carve in ivory till that was permitted. Ashtaq Ahmad has learnt the craft from his father; however unlike a lot of Indian crafts, camel-bone carving is not generally a hereditary craft, and ...