Agra is considered the heartland of North India’s tourist circuit. The city is home to a set of matchless monuments including the Taj Mahal. Any visit to Agra is incomplete without a signature souvenir from the city which most experienced travelers agree would be a piece of art of Pietra Dura on white marble.
To say Agra specializes in marble works and the Pietra Dura decorative art form would be an understatement. The city is replete with master craftsmen who create a plethora of beautiful objects from the art form, ranging from table-tops, medallions, jewelry boxes, elephant statuettes as well as furniture.
Parchin Kari – An art form that is aesthetically pleasing and eternally enduring
Known locally as Parchin Kari, which literally translates to “inlay” or “driven in work”, Pietra Dura involves cutting up of stones or gems into different shapes and then assembling them together on a marble base (usually white or black marble for maximum visual effect) with a substrate. The final work, if done masterfully, can be extremely pleasing and the various pieces fuse together seamlessly to create a variety of shapes or visuals such as portraits, miniatures, design motifs and kaleidoscopes.
While Pietra Dura was invented in Ancient Rome, it became a mainstream art form in the early 16th century when it was patronized by the Catholic Church for “eternal portraits” due to the longevity of the medium. The art form was then brought to the court of the Mughals in the early part of the 17th century by European travelers where it reached a new pinnacle of glory.
The Mughal were immediately endeared to the Pietra Dura art form and under their patronage it grew to become Parchin Kari, a completely localized art form. Parchin Kari drew inspiration from the original European technique however created its own design output suited to local aesthetics of the sub-continent.
Under Mughal patronage, the Parchin Kari art form grew immensely. The art form was widely used in most of Agra’s monuments including Itimad-ud-Daulah’s tomb which is often called the “jewellery box” as well as the “Baby Taj”.
The usage of Parchin Kari reached a new zenith in the construction of the Taj Mahal where the art form was used to create various Arabesque, Islamic, Persian and symmetrical design motifs.
Parchin Kari as an art form continues to thrive in modern day Agra. The descendants of the artisans who created the city’s massive monuments continue their work creating marvelous pieces of art that captivate the imagination of visitors and residents to this day.