Wood Sculpture Art

ENGRAVED images of Ganapati, Saraswati, Lakshmi and a few other Hindu gods and goddesses can be found on artistically produced doors of havelis inHaryana.

The icons of Ganapati, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Shiva, Hanuman and Krishna can be seen on wooden gate structures of several magnificent village havelis. Our traditional havelis used to be extensively decorated in all probable ways and the front view was amazingly inviting. Artists of various hues and disciplines jointly thought of native art forms and the sentiments of both the haveli owner as well as the craft persons have been excellently expressed in the artistic engravings on wooden door frames and door panels. A large number of door structures, routinely made of excellent shalva or sheesam reveal that the overhead plank —a sirdar — was the most appropriate site for an engraved depiction of the Hindu deities. In the process of creation, the central spot was invariably allotted to the benevolent Ganapati flanked by his female spiritual companions — Riddhi and Siddhi, Lord Ganesha’s two wives, but otherwise personal attendants.

The presence of Lord Ganapati’s figure at the marked place is considered sacred and is believed to bring peace and prosperity to the occupants of the house.

The icons of Ganapati are generally placed on an overhead thick oblong and square shaped plank of a wooden gate structure or on the topmost panel. The deity is mostly found in a squatting posture, and, sometimes, in a dancing form, too, while Riddhi and Siddhi stand beside him in an attractive posture, waving the chanvaras. Lord Ganesha’s four-armed figure is invariably engraved on the front side of havelis.

Wood carving and engraving as an art form has flourished in Haryana since time immemorial. The trading community patronised it. Ancient texts Astadhayayi and Brihatsam-ghita carry detailed information not only on the selection of appropriate wood but also on designing household utilities, pillars, posts and door structures. Save in the arid and semi-arid zones of Bhiwani and Hisar districts, engraved art work on wood cannot survive for long elsewhere in Haryana because of the corrosive weather conditions and the damage caused by insects.

The engraved door art form in Haryana is both variable and widespread and its excellent holistic composition is comparable to art forms available in other regions of the Indian subcontinent, especially Kashmir, upper Himachal Pradesh, the Shekhawati region and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, Gujarat (Kutchh region) and Andhra Pradesh. The design of door panels depended more on imitation than on contiguity. Except in the northern districts of erstwhile Ambala and modern Sirsa, at least 5,000 sites (at 500 locations) can be identified. This, after a decade-and-a-half of research on traditional wood-based architecture and engraving practices that were prevalent until the middle of this century, but are almost defunct now. Prosperous and traditional settlements in Hisar, Bhiwani, and Ladwa can still astound us with impressive doors made of good quality wood. Their rich patterns, both geometrical and floral, expertise of the craft persons, selection of materials, and the grandeur of the finished product is very impressive. These finely engraved objects also existed in the ancient settlements in peninsular Arabia and many fine specimens of doors can be seen in Egypt too.

In spite of the weathering effect, many gate structures made of wood and wooden door panels with intricate engravings still retain the fine textural finish and sharpness of design that we rarely come across nowadays in Haryana.

Wood craft in Haryana is intricate and knowledge based.

By the techniques of denting, rubbing, forging, placing and fixing, artisans were able to fill ‘space’ with a rich form and style. Almost all door panels had hinges called chool and maruaa. The base or the rear support of these artistic door panels was made of two to three inches thick sheesham planks. On the front plane, all art work was affixed so that it could be visible even while the door was shut.

Local artisans also thought of giving appropriate names to various forms of artistically created door panels like, pachbeenee, satbeenee, naubeenee, aterna, athmashaa phool and Gujarati. The prefixes pach and sat mean five and seven, respectively, and so on. It was difficult to make door panels beyond naubeenee as it marred the aesthetic quality. The beenee here denotes the vertical bars holding the embossed design on a door panel.

There are scores of variations in style in both the Gujarati and the aterna forms. While the Gujarati forms of panels drew inspiration from a horde of indigenous flowers and required delicate workmanship during creation, the aterna forms were like a puzzle layout, which could have emanated from the famous chakravayuh in the Mahabharata.

In Haryana, the art of creating beautiful door panels evolved gradually and became popular and famous in 1930s in Bhiwani town, a bustling trading centre between Gujarat, adjoining Rajpootana and Delhi. As patrons became readily available, wood craftsmen flocked to Bhiwani from neighbouring villages and even the Shekhawati region of Rajpootana.

Among these, Ganeshi and Johri earned reputation. Ganeshi was indeed a master craftsman who was active till the early 1960s. A few masterpiece door panels created by him, and still existing, can fetch at least Rs 10 lakh.

Business persons involved in trading of antique doors in Haryana have taken away many pieces of valuable art work. During the couple of years, organised activity in acquiring and disposing of door structures with valuable artwork has come to light.

In the absence of a relevant law for protection of objects with a heritage value (those that are not covered under the Protection of Monuments Act, 1952, Haryana’s numerous villages are gradually losing cultural property and visual character.

Creation of duplicate door structures at workshops run by businessmen for local sale as well as export of handicrafts is a cause for concern. The rapid growth of the demand for ancient doors as traditional art objects in big cities has led to the mushroom growth of persons dealing in antiques. It is hard for customers to distinguish between a genuine or a spurious antique, and thus, the trade flourishes

In this emerging scenario will the new class of wood artists ever be able to create new door forms, though classical techniques, to suit architectural and aesthetic tastes as well as needs of future builders? Will they continue to thrive on plagiarising traditional glory? Modern schools of wood craft should seriously think about this problem and contribute towards the conservation of wood art relating to door structures of traditional havelis in Haryana.