Making Varaq

Art history/ Historiography, Crafts, Handlooms, Art

Making Varaq: The Ancient Arts of the Precious Metal Leaf-Beaters

Sethi, Dr. Ritu

The glitter and glitz of precious metalshas defined royalty, flaunted wealth and symbolized status and power. Over the millennia’salchemists innovated inventive ways to satisfy the ever growing pursuit for the new, the unusual and the bespoke. Today some of these ancient techniques continue to find new uses to meet the demands of the connoisseurs, the well-heeled and the ‘new’ royalty.Among thesetechniques are the arts of the precious  metal leaf-beaters. The micro-fine leaf that they hand-beat – the Varaq, is used in ways both sacred and secular that defy imagination and speak eloquently of the skills of craftsmanship and the abilities of craftspersons to adopt material to myriad usage. From gilding icons, deities, ritual and decorative objects of stone and woodto being applied onto wall muralsand interiors. Theapplications onpaintings extendingfrom the detailed miniaturearts on paper to the ritual textile arts like those of the painted Pichwais of Nathdwar in Rajasthan. Manuscripts illuminated with gold leaf, gold-tooled leather bookbinding and theedge-gilding of booksto its use on religious book covers. Its extensive use in textiles fromclothing to ceremonial and ritual flags and in the past onpalanquin covers and tent hangings.Anintrinsic part of the MateriaMedica of Ayurvedic and Yunanihealing systems, in ancient cosmetic recipes  and ofcourse the ubiquitous presence of this edible gold and silver Varaq on special-occasion Indian foods from confectioneries, desserts and nuts to biryani. The skill and knowledge of making Varaq– the micro-fine leaf of gold and s...
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