Monday, May 28, 2018

Bazaar Thaterian - The Market of the MetalWorkers

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About 10 kilometers south-east from Amritsar, along what used to be the historic Grand Trunk Road, there is a nondescript town called Jandiala Guru. No one knew much about it until 2014, when it suddenly received international recognition by UNESCO for its metalwork craft. The metalworkers are called Thateras.

If you walk into Jandiala Guru, you can find the Thateras in a lane called 'Gali Kashmirian' (Lane of the Kashmiris). I was a little puzzled by this name. Why were there Kashmiri Thateras in a little nondescript Punjabi town?

It turns out that in the late 18th century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh invited skilled metal workers from Kashmir, primarily Muslims, to settle in his kingdom. They established themselves in Gali Kashmirian, and began making brass and copper utensils.

Bazaar Thaterian (the Metalworkers Market) became a thriving market for all sorts of utensils, including those for household use as well as for community cooking (have you seen the huge cauldrons at gurudwaras?).

During the partition of India, the Muslim Thateras of Jandiala Guru migrated to Kujranwala in Pakistan (another metalwork town). Hindu and Sikh Thateras from Kujranwala arrived in Jandiala Guru and began practising their craft. Thus, the metalworkers in Jandiala Guru today are either Hindus or Sikhs. But the name of the lane has endured. Gali Kashmirian. The Lane of the Kashmiris.

The Thathera community has a long oral tradition of craft. Knowledge is passed through apprenticeship, usually within the family. Designs are made by skilfully hammering a series of tiny dents into the heated metal. Even the tools they use are handmade.

In spite of being inscribed in 2014 on the UNESCO representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Humanity, the Thateras are struggling to make a living. The popularity of steel, aluminum and plastic has killed the market for brass and copper utensils.

There's a very nice video here, of the Thateras. It appears from the interviews that that Bazaar Thaterian is dying: