The last glassmakers of Kapadwanj

KAPADWANJ: The razzledazzle of Navratri, the longest dance festival of Gujarat, is incomplete without thousands of tiny mirrors embroidered on
chaniya-cholis of lovely lasses dancing to the dhols. Likewise, the famed mirror-wall artwork in Rajasthan homes owes it’s thousand reflections to this  small town in central Gujarat.

Kapadwanj, located some 60 km east of Ahmedabad, is Gujarat’s glass town, with a mammoth 300 units manufacturing lead-coated mirrors to adorn
garments and homes in western India, a century and half ago.

Today, the Shishgar family helmed by Bashir (67) and son Vasim (30) remains the last custodians of the ancient art of making lead-coated mirrors
using a 450-year-old technique.

“The home of Shishgar family in Kapadwanj is the only place where one can study the traditional furnace and glass making technique which has
remained unaffected by modernity. Records show how lead-coated mirrors made in Kapadwanj were used extensively in European churches and
palaces of Rajasthan. Experts also compare the technique employed here with the one practiced in Europe several centuries ago,” says Dr Alok Kumar
Kanungo, assistant research professor at IIT Gandhinagar.

Dr Kanungo has conducted extensive research in glass making processes in India and abroad, has documented Kapadwanj as a unique centre that
reflects centuries of Indian craftsmanship.

Artisans keep alive a glowing tradition

We employ wood and coal to run the furnace and achieve the temperature of 900 degrees Celsius to melt the glass. Earlier, silica with minerals was
used for making glass but we use recycled glass as raw material,” says Bashir.

As per Kanungo, the glass is melted at a very high temperature of 900 degrees Celsius after which blowpipes are used to make sphere of 1.5 feet

“It is a fascinating process as as artisans continue make spheres with clockwork precision. While Kapadwanj apart from other centers is the lead-coating
which is done at a precise time and temperature to ensure it gives the perfect coating,” he said.

Vasim Shishgar, said that the primary driver of business is demand for aabhla (circular coated mirrors) used for embroidery in different parts of
Gujarat such as Kutch.

“Use of these mirrors in interior designing has provided a new lease of life to the business. Majority of the demand is from Rajasthan. Depending on the
order, we make tinted glasses in blue, green, yellow, silver or gold. However, the competition has become stiff from China that supplies the glass at less
than half the price with inferior quality,” he said.Vasim’s elder brother has already deserted glass making to take up farming as full time profession.

The burden of carrying the family’s legacy forward now rests on Vasim. “We will do our best to keep it alive,” said Bashir Shishgar.

“The government of Andhra Pradesh has supported the glass bead makers by making it a rule to present the beads as a memento to the guests to
support the fledgling industry. Similar practice in Gujarat might help the artisans,” said Kanungo.

Traditional Tales

With India’s rich cultural history, there is never a dull moment when it comes to doing up homes with traditional artefacts.

Doing up a home with traditional artefacts has got a fillip with a return of all things vintage. Consequently today there are more options than ever before to add a desi touch to your home.

Décor talk
Every house has a character of its own and artefacts can bring alive some cherished memories. However, it is crucial to recreate one place at a time, could be as simple as starting from an entrance lobby to a living hall to bedrooms. The addition of traditional artefacts into home décor creates a focal point in a space. These can be inclusions of art pieces, sculptures, ornamentation or traditional building components. “Some artefacts are perennial in nature and therefore fall under the category of must have such as animal figurines, Buddha, Nataraj statue or antique look table clocks and traditional candleholders which can go with all kind of modern interiors giving it a Midas touch,” says Nitin Jain, Managing Director, INV Home.

Do it right
It is essential to understand the character of a space whilst doing the interior design. Traditional artefacts such as brass lamps, portraits and heavy silks can be used in a space, creating an exotic ambience. “Traditional homes, crafted through local workmanship can be decorated with these artefacts that can elevate the cultural emphasis of the setting they are placed in. Apart from this, inclusion of traditional elements in apartments and residences placed in an urban scenario can uplift the cultural roots of the space,” says Himani Jain, Interior Stylist & Designer & Director – Space Talk Designs. Artefacts can be used in their original form or cleverly adapted to make them functional as well. “India has a treasure of traditional artefacts, which are either in their original form or clever copies. They can be imaginatively adapted to a variety of uses such as furniture, wall decorations, doors and vertical panels, gazebos and lamp bases. The challenge is to know when to stop overdoing it and making the space look like a museum,” says Aahana Miller, ABM Architects, Mumbai.

India inspired
You can add traditional artefacts to your home is to create collections of one artefact you enjoy collecting. “You could dedicate a corner of your home to them or install a beautifully designed cabinet that can hold the entire collection. Brass and copper artefacts are a good way to bring in ethnic décor touches into a modern home. Brass or copper sculptures, such as Bastar sculptures, can be placed on a shelf or on a table as a showstopper statement piece,” says Bobby Mukherji, chairman and founder, Bobby Mukherji and Associates.

The key to achieving this look is balance and to think contextually or rather out of context. “Can your traditional temple statues and statuettes be put to more practical use as a bookend? Or an interesting coffee table display along with a hardbound copy of a bestselling graphic novel? Why not? Can an antique deewan that has been languishing at home since the late 80s be given a new life not by just a coat of polish, but chintzy print upholstery,” says Deena Rodrigues, founder, Chairs & Company.

Design mantras
While designing and incorporating your personal spaces with antique home décor elements, you must not just keep your décor limited to only using traditional artefacts and figurines. “A good amalgamation of the old along with the new will lend your abodes a contemporary look yet maintaining its antique charm. For example, adding an 18th century old-style floral painting can look absolutely outstanding next to a modern artist’s creation,” says Hemil Parikh, founder, Elysium Abodes. Traditional artifacts are a perfect way in which one can not only pep up their space but give true character to it as well. “One should never be too impressed or over enamored with things that you might like elsewhere and would like to incorporate in your space, which sometimes makes it lose the character of your space,” concludes Ankur Shingal, managing partner, Ansavv Inc.