Asthishilp – Bone Craft | Raw Revivals


An ancient art form, bone carving continues to influence artists’ creations ranging from necklaces and earrings to larger projects such as knife handles, chess sets and jewellery boxes. Several cultures throughout the world have passed down the arduous process of bone carving from generation to generation. Each bone carving is a hand-made piece of art, created by experienced artists with an incredible amount of patience. Before the 1st. Century A.D., the surviving ivories show that it was mainly used for making kohl sticks, hairpins, combs, chess gamesmen, and similar mostly utilitarian objects. But, despite the meagre archaeological evidence, ancient Indian literature , both in Sanskrit and Prakrit, reveal the esteem in which the art of ivory carving was held in ancient India. The epics, Ramayana and the Mahabharata, speak of ivory and ivory merchants and ivory sword handles from Assam and ivory inlay work from Eastern India.

After the ban on the sale of ivory, bone inlay work and carved handles and jewellery has received an impetus as a cheaper alternative to scarce ivory. But now, with restrictions on ivory carving artisans have adapted to newer, easily procurable raw materials like camel bone and wood. As the camel is big animal and has large bones it becomes a valid substitute. Today , ivory is sold in black market at usurious prices and has to be crafted in secret and sold under the table, which means unscrupulous middle men, and once again the ivory craftsmen gets paid very little or not at all. This has led to a decline in the number of expert ivory carvers, who don’t have any interest in passing on the craft to their heirs and instead send them to more lucrative jobs.



The master craftsman and owner of the unit of bone craft is Ibrahim Khan Mehar. He started the unit in the year 1987 with an investment cost of Rs. 4800 in equal partnership with his three brothers. The next year one of the brother parted ways taking his share. In 1995, the other brother also parted ways leaving Ibrahim Khan as the sale owner of this unit. Now Ibrahim khan has 20 artisans working under him. The orders of products comes directly from companies and also from RIICO. All craftsmen are required to have all the basic skills from bone carving, inlay work, colouring, finishing etc. Surface decoration like kalam painting, mother of pearl, metal trimming etc are done from different workshops.



They source their raw material (bone) from Moradabad.  Camel bone is first cleaned with to remove impurities attached to the bone. To dye the pieces of bone with some specific color, the bone in boiled in a mixture of color and water for 2 – 3 days. Wood is selected keeping in mind the requirements of the product. The wood is shaped into the desired form using different carpentry machines and tools such as lathe, saw, etc. Mango and sheesham woods are used for bone inlaying. The design is carved out on wood of a particular thickness where the shaped bone pieces are fitted in. If any gaps are left after inlaying the bone, they are filled with a mixture of wax and special frame chalk which looks like bone after drying. Overlay We can overlay bone on wood and brass. The shaped bone pieces are stuck with aerolite, which is very strong glue, on the required piece of wood. The gaps can then be filled with a colored resin which a mixture of aerolite, color and resin. The outcome is then made smooth by sanding. The products are finally buffed with a soft cloth on a buffing machine which gives the final shine to the product. The final product can be decorated using different types of surface art like kalam painting or metal embellishments.


Peeli Dori is striving hard to give these crafts and craftsmen the recognition they deserve.


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