Gujarat’s traditional Sankheda Jhula has a long and illustrious history. Sankheda hichko, made from the sankheda furniture, is renowned for its enthralling creativity and inexhaustible durability. Many countries around the world have adopted this style of furniture. Sankheda jhula made from the sankheda furniture is said to be auspicious and used on various religious and celebratory occasions.
Sacred pedestals for idols in temples, chairs for the bride and groom at weddings, cradles and walkers for infants, and garden swings are among the many uses of the sankheda furniture. The Sankheda hichko-making technique necessitates a great deal of time and labor. Individual components of the Sankheda Jhula are created by manually turning teak wood on a lathe with the aid of a hand-handled bow.
Tinfoil sheets are mashed together with hot saras or glue until they form a uniform material that dissolves easily in water. This is harkalai, which is used to turn the member while painting elaborate floral and geometric patterns. The craftsman, with exceptional skill and geometric perfection, freehand maps the ornamental patterns, flawlessly matching them without the use of measurements. Agate stone is rubbed over the wood to enhance the brilliance of the painted designs.
Clear lac has a bright orange color when applied to wood. The final polish and gloss are achieved using kevda leaf. The components are then joined together with wood joinery to form a single piece of furniture. However, the aesthetic value of Sankheda hichko painted with real lac is incomparable to that of furniture painted with synthetic colors because lac gives the object a sense of depth and natural glow, whereas synthetic paint appears flat.
In Sankheda, there are 10–15 master artisans who are familiar with all of the methods. Others are skilled in only one technique and rely on other artisans who specialize in different procedures. For example, while some people become experts in woodturning, others become experts at painting patterns. This establishes a mutually reliant relationship as well as a sense of communal identity. The master craftsmen’s ability assures uniformity in the creation of identical pieces that fit together to construct sankheda Jhula. Given that no two handmade things are the same, it is a testament to the mastery of the craftsman’s skillful hands.
A craft practice so deeply ingrained in the practitioners’ collective identity that their town is named after it. Sankheda, a small village in Gujarat’s eastern region, gets its name from the Gujarati word “sanghedu,” which means “lathe.” Sankheda jhula lacquered turned wood furniture with hand-painted designs and traditional methods of decoration is estimated to have been created here starting around 1855. This craft is practiced by roughly 80–100 families from the “Kharadi-Suthar” community in this town, providing them with a strong sense of communal identification and continuity.
Every year on the ‘Maha sud Teras’ day in February, the entire ‘Kahardi-Suthar’ community, as well as the ‘Sonis’ (jewelers), ‘Luhars’ (metal workers), and ‘Kumbhars’ (potters), gather to worship Lord Vishwakarma, the principal Hindu deity of all craftsmen and architects, and to rejoice and pray for the community’s well-being and the growth of their art. In the region, the craft is highly regarded. Ghodiyun (child’s cradle) is thought to be one of the first pieces of furniture made with this technique.
In Gujarati families, it is a valued property that is passed down through the years as an heirloom. It has previously been handed to royalty and state heads from various countries by the former Gujarati royalty. Today, the craftsmen put up motorized machinery to turn the lathe according to their needs. Synthetic colors and melamine coatings have also grown popular in place of natural colors and lacquer.
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