UNESCO tag apart, Thatheras struggle for survival


AmritsarPosted at: Jun 19, 2017, 12:55 AM; last updated: Jun 19, 2017, 12:55 AM (IST)

Thathera craftsmen hammer brass utensils in their native Jandiala Guru in Amritsar. Tribune Photos

Neha Saini

Tribune News Service

Amritsar, June 18

Three years ago when the Thathera community of Jandiala Guru, artisans crafting handmade copper and brass utensils, featured in the Unesco’s heritage list of intangible items, it was celebrated as a proud moment for all Punjabis.
Showered with promises of revival and better future, the community that was fading into oblivion suddenly became hopeful. Today, it is still waiting for the promises to turn into a reality.
Its biggest challenge is survival. The community is struggling to latch onto the last of its torchbearers. Since the Mughal era, it is considered as one of the exclusive Punjabi folk craft forms — the art of making utensils with hands — but it has a few takers.
“The business has dwindled despite the recognition and no one buys these utensils any more. Made of copper, bronze and brass, these utensils are either used by gurdwaras for making langar or some collectors. Wholesalers buy only selective items, including pots, thalis, gaggars (jug) and the unique Deg Tamba (large traditional boiling copper pot). Deg Tamba is unique to Jandiala Guru and not found anywhere else,” said Subhash Suri, a second generation Thathera retailer. His father Kewal Chand Suri is the last of his generation Thathera maker.
Subhash says he never felt the need to learn the art of his ancestors as ‘It doesn’t have much scope’.
Once the biggest market for their wares, today only a handful of families are left that are pursuing the craft. Even the wholesale market in Amritsar for utensils sell the latest made steel and glass ware.
“Very few shopkeepers ask for handmade copper utensils as they don’t sell. Competitions from other manufacturers and changed tastes of people have deeply affected our earnings. Earlier about 10 to 15 years ago, we used to earn Rs 25,000 to 30,000. Today, if we earn Rs 10,000 in a month, it is considered as a good business,’ said Sham Lal, a resident of Jandiala Guru.
The manufacturing cost of these utensils is approx Rs 400 per kg. Even a few craftsman, making Deg Tamba, are being paid anything between Rs 20-40 on a daily basis while the market selling price of the product is somewhere between Rs 500 to 540.
“The retailers get a major share of the profits and we are left with a meager amount,” says one of the craftsmen.
Costly raw material and hard work too are deviating young generation of Thatheras to move away from their traditional crafts.
“One has to devote 8 to 10 hours to the manufacturing process, which includes melting and hammering the metal. The art is dying as the next generation is not willing to pursue it,” says Sham Lal.
Post-UNESCO list, the Thatheras thought that the government would waive some taxes or give promotional platforms to the community for the revival of the art. But they only got disappointment. “The government made big promises at that time but it did nothing. There is no aid or funding for the community for its revival,” says Subhash.

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