The historic art of Ivory carving, now banned and for a good reason too, was perhaps the most beautiful part of Rajasthan’s craft culture. It is also perhaps the oldest form of art, 4000 years old at the very least, to have survived till modern era. In fact, mention of the ivory carving is even found on the oldest Vedic scriptures of India.
Ivory carving, as the name suggests, is made of elephants’ tusks, which being a soft material is ideal for carving. However, the same quality of ivory also makes the task difficult for the carvers, since being soft means prone to easy damage. Nevertheless, the beautiful color of the ivory has surpassed all these disadvantages, making the art favorite of the noblemen of all ages.
The carving of ivory was used to be done using chisels of all sizes, and bonesaw. However, with the advancement in technology, smaller drills, fly-cutter, and other identical tools took place of the traditional ones. Though the tools of carving had changed over times, the processs had remained same more or less.
The intricate designs are first sketched on the ivory, which then are carved with careful precision. Later the carved tusks are smoothened using sandpaper. Afterwards, if needed, the products are whitened using a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide. In the end, to protect the surface, and bring out the white of the ivory, products are rubbed with methylated spirit.
This process was around for many decades, perhaps even centuries, before the whole art was banished in the year 1990. After that, the ivory artisans, lacking other alternatives started using horns and bones in place of elephant tusks, following the same process and changing only the tools as needed.
Though considered a traditional art of Rajasthan, ivory carving is found to be a popular art across the globe. Nevertheless, the art remains synonymous with Rajasthan, a reason of which could be the fact that the princely capitals of Rajasthan including Bharatpur, Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Pali, were actually the hub for the art.
Indeed, until the ban winded up the whole of the industry, the art was in its most flourishing state in these very places. Many artifacts like showpieces, chess pieces, weapons handles, jewelries, and even idols of deities made of ivory, although expensive, were available in abundance in these places.