The method of inlay used currently in Agra has not changed very much from the times of the Mughals, but the patterns have evolved and have become more refined over the centuries. Here is a brief method of the inlay work done at our premises.
The first step involves getting a high grade of marble. The marble can be white, black, pink or green. The marble is then cut according to the size of the article to be made. The marble used at Akbar International is the same type of Makrana marble that was used for the construction of the Taj Mahal.
White marble quarry
Next in line are the semi-precious stones. The semiprecious stones used in the inlay work were brought from many different places during the time of Shah Jahan. Amber was brought from Myanmar, turquoise from Tibet, jade from Burma, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan etc. Here is the list of the most common ones that are used in the inlay.
The stones are now taken and cut into thin slices. These small fragments are then shaped by using a hand operated machine called the hone. The hone allows for better control of the artist on the shape of the stone. The artist holds the tiny bit of stone in his left hand and brushes it against the hone to shape it. Each artist is responsible for a different motif. Some are responsible for making leaves, some for flowers and some for stems. The master artisan called the ustad (in Persian) is responsible for conjuring up the overall design. We at Akbar have the pleasure of working with a few such ustads.
Artists working on the Hone, shaping the semi-precious stones
White marble with Ochre paint
While the stones are being shaped, the marble is smeared with color which is either powdered ochre or heena. Heena is the traditional paste made of plant by the same name. It gives a deep orange to rust color after application on hands. This heena is used for decorating the hands of the brides during Indian weddings. It is a symbol of luck, joy and beauty.
The marble is now chiselled to make space for the stones to be set. This way the chiselled spots are easily highlighted against the orange background of the heena making it easier for the artist to work. The chiselling work is done using two chisels, one pointed and one flat. The tools are made of iron but the tips are made of tempered steel. For tempering the steel a process of heating and reheating the steel to upto 650 degree celcius is used.
Artist chiselling out the marble
Chisels, glue and pieces of semi-precious stones
Now the stones are ready, the chiselling is done, the only thing left is setting the stones. They are set one piece at a time into the carved out space using a special glue. After the glue dries and the stones set, the finished piece is scrubbed gently with sandpaper to even out any rough edges. The henna is washed off to reveal the dazzling white purity of the stone.
After the final polish for a high finish protective shine, a piece of the history is ready.
Finished Table Top