Parchin Kari Mughals Gem-studded Legacy in Agra

Mughal influence continues to trickle in crafts that have put India on the world map. One of them is Parchin Kari, a craft that involves inlaying coloured or semi-precious stones into marbles.
Taj Mahal's construction brought the art of Parchin Kari to India. Credit DepositPhotos
Taj Mahal's construction brought the art of Parchin Kari to India. Credit DepositPhotos

Agra, or Akbarabad as it was once called, brings to the mind of a discerning traveller the image of the Taj Mahal. While there&rsquos so much more to the city, the marble mausoleum is all that is needed to stand for the idea of India. Once inside its airy compound, visitors jostle to find the perfect corner for pictures or space to sit in the shade of the arches as the summer sun bears down.    

The Taj Mahal, the symbol of elevated art, is a song of eternal love. Mughals, with their innumerable monuments, wrote love letters to architecture and left Agra with memories that continue to trickle in crafts that have put the city on the world map. One of them is Parchin Kari or Pachhikari.

Parchin Kari is the art of inlaying coloured or semi-precious stones into a stone base, often in geometric or flower patterns. In the walls of the Taj Mahal, the semi-precious stones glisten against the white surface of the marble, inspiring a generation of craftsmen that continue to practice the art in the bylanes of Agra and Fatehpur Sikri.

Believed to have originated in ancient Rome, the craft soon began to appear in church architecture. The art of Pietra Dura, as it was called in Italy, was brought to India in the 17th century by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan when he commissioned the Taj Mahal and brought experts from Persia, introducing the art of inlay carving and use of semi-precious stone in marble for the first time. The Parchinkari craftsmen of Agra are believed to be descendants of the same craftsmen who built the Taj Mahal. 

To make a marble inlay artefact, the stones are cut and shaped with a hand-operated machine while the marble is chiselled with a diamond-tipped chisel. Semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite, onyx, mother-of-pearl, cornelian, jasper, etc., are inlaid on a marble surface, then set piece by piece into the carved out marble, and held in place using an adhesive (the exact recipe for which is hard to figure out. It&rsquos a trade secret, the artisans claim). After the inlay is complete, the marble is buffed out and polished. The mark of a fine piece of inlay work is that it will make it seem like the precious stone grew out of marble. Often, even a single motif, such as a flower or a leaf, is made of different pieces of stones put together. 

Even today, the arched recesses of the Taj Mahal&rsquos main mausoleum, as well as the outer walls, show excellent inlay craftsmanship. On the marble screen that covers the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, detailed inlay work with semi-precious stones pays homage to the simplistic opulence that marked the Mughal era. This craft of inlay work can also be admired in the forts and mosques of Delhi and Agra, such as Agra Fort and Itmad Ud Daulah, where Persian motifs can be traced in the white marble. 

The art also found its way to the Rajput empire, where inlay work was supplemented by intricate mirrorwork that bedecked the royal halls and palaces in Rajasthan. In the region of Shekhawati, many merchants replicated the opulence of the courts in their havelis by commissioning artisans to use small mirror pieces arranged in ornate designs on the exteriors and interiors of their homes. 

It was later, after the British conquest of Agra, that travellers made a beeline to the city and expressed a desire to acquire memorabilia that reminded them of the history of the city. Inlay souvenirs found willing buyers, and a whole industry came to life in Agra. From the elaborate and intricate pillars of Mughal architecture, Parchinkari today has found its way into our homes in the form of table tops, coasters, chess boards and cabinets.    


How To Get To Agra The city is well connected to all major cities through an elaborate network of roads and rail.

Where To Stay Spread over 4.5 acres, Taj Hotel & Convention Centre is ideally located within walking distance from the Taj Mahal. The spacious rooms are elegantly designed in a contemporary style. The hotel houses a spa, expansive kids play area and state-of-the-art fitness centre. 

Where To Dine The hotel offers multiple dining options such as Palato, the all-day diner, Daawat-e-Nawaab, the Indian specialty restaurant and two lounges - Liquid Lounge and Tea Lounge. The pi&egravece de r&eacutesistance is Infini - The Sky Lounge, a rooftop bar with stunning views of the Taj Mahal. Guests can enjoy a swim in the infinity pool which also overlooks the Taj Mahal. 

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