The arts and crafts of India are known to be diverse and rich in culture, as they depict different ages and reflect influences of various political regimes. But today, a lot of ancient art forms are experiencing a slow death, forcing several craftsmen to abandon their traditional professions and look for other means of livelihood.
Three years ago, in a bid to sustain local art forms, a bunch of students at Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) came together to launch ‘Project Virasat’ under ENACTUS. The project is currently managed by four second-year commerce students – Shruti Gaggar, Aman Akash, Taruni Singhal and Agrim Jain, directors of Project Virasat, along with Dhaval Gupta and Arushi Mahajan, presidents of Enactus SRCC.
How did it start?
A few years ago, Gaggar says, one of the team members visited a village named Jandiala Guru in Punjab and learnt about Thatheras and their craft Thathiyaar – the art of making brass and copper utensils using a hammer.
“On digging a little deeper into the matter, we found that Thathiyaar is the only craft in India that has been listed on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Yet despite the international recognition, the artisans were struggling,” she said.
That’s when, she says, they decided to launch the project.
P-TAL (Punjabi Thathera Art Legacy)
According to Gaggar, they also found out that the number of Thatheras had been decreasing drastically. “The artisans were not getting fair prices for their products as the middlemen would pocket most of the profit made during the transaction,” she said.
Hence, the students launched a brand called P-TAL which stands or Punjabi Thathera Art Legacy, which also means brass (peetal) in Hindi.
Gaggar adds that so far they have been successful in supporting 42 Thatheras under P-TAL, which is now a self-sustainable brand, handled by Ms Kirti Goel.
What’s the process?
The team members start with identifying and getting in touch with the artisans they intend to work with. To that end, they take help from local NGOs, or search for them online or try contacting them through personal contacts, if any.
“The most important thing is to gain their trust and make them feel motivated to pursue the art form,” said Gaggar.
After identifying the artisans, she says, they try to understand the problems they are facing to provide a tailor-made solution to facilitate the demand and supply of each craft. “For instance, if the problem is on the demand side, we try to provide them with a market place – which is the most prevalent of all problems – to ensure that they don’t abandon the art,” she said.
Then they begin with the community research by talking to the artisans, understanding the craft, assessing the final products, and most importantly, trying to find the story behind it. “We make sure that it exists as an art and not just as the source of livelihood,” she said.
The next step, she says, is unification. In order to avail themselves of any government benefits or to create a brand (P-TAL, for instance), they try to unify the artisans into a group. “We do this in order to provide the artisans with a feeling of belongingness, a sense of identity of their own,” she said.
After that, they enter into the design part. They take help from professional designers and organisations who have expertise in the matter and finally enter the market with fresh designs.
And finally, they reach out to various outlets and portals to ensure that the demand for the products sustains in the market. For instance, the enterprise is currently placed in more than 18 regional outlets across the country, including Taj Khazana. They are also listed in more than ten e-commerce websites, including Amazon and Flipkart, and they participate in annual exhibitions like Dastkar.
For the future, the team intends to integrate more artisans in the existing art forms besides identifying and reaching out to new art forms. They are aiming to revive more such craft forms, two of them being – Gaurahari Stonework from Uttar Pradesh and Usta Art from Bikaner, Rajasthan.
“Simultaneously we are also planning to build an online demand portal, an e-commerce website which will also contain the details about the craft so that people don’t just buy products, they would buy stories,” added Gaggar.
Prachi Batra is an intern at LiveWire. She loves watching sunsets, sipping light coffee and writing stories.
All images provided by Shruti Gaggar.