History of Usta Art

History of Usta Art

Founded by Rao Bika in 1486, Bikaner is a majestic city, known for its royal palaces and rich heritage. Bikaner has a vibrant culture that exhibits the magnificent way of life and beautiful handicrafts. The meticulously sculpted Naqqashi of the Junagarh Fort, Anup Mahal, and Chandra Kalamahal gives an insight into Rajasthan's diverse artistic styles. 

Usta art is the general term used to describe the art of Naqqashi and Mannoti practiced by artisans of the Usta community in the district of Bikaner, Rajasthan. The art of Naqqashi and Mannoti flourished between the late-16th to the mid-19th century in the Bikaner State. By the mid-20th Century, only a handful of artisans were left and this motivated us to intervene and revive the Usta art.

 "Usta" is derived from the Persian word استاد "Ustad" meaning master. The Usta artists of Iran came to Bikaner during the Mughal era to create designs for the Junagarh fort of Bikaner during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar.

The major manifestations of Usta art in Bikaner can be seen in such places as the Phool Mahal, Chandra Palace, Anoop Palace, and Karan Palace. Being part of the famous Junagarh fort of Bikaner, all these places have become synonymous with the identity of Usta art. There are also prominent locales where one can find the finest exhibits of Usta art, such as Rampuria Havelis, Amir Khushro's Mazaar, Nizamuddin Auliya, and the Dargah Ajmer Sharif.

Many of the motifs used in Usta art are inspired by Mughal art. In the past, embossing was usually done, but during the British period, it was decided that gold embossing should also be done on lighter materials. Thus, glass, wood, marble, and camel hide became popular as bases for art. A white base, such as ivory or marble, along with a squirrel-hair brush, makes it a real treat to our eyes. 

Many Usta families participated in this art form hundreds of years ago, and both the skill and the knowledge were passed on from generation to generation. Even though this art has passed and survived several generations, it has started to disappear in today's fast-paced world. Some renowned Usta artists of all times are Rukn-Ud-Din, Ustad Ali Raza, Rahim Ji, Isa Ji, Ghulam Ji, Mohsin Ji, and Javed Ji. 

Usta's earlier works include embossing on the walls of Bhandasar Jain Temple and Junagarh Fort. In Junagarh, the artwork was combined with stone carving. Lalgarh and Junagarh palaces were adorned with carvings and stonework by Usta artisans. It also includes artists who painted miniatures in Usta and embossed gold.

Fascinated by our traditional heritage, we decided to work towards the wholesome development of Usta art. The reshaping and reconstruction of the Usta Art from wall paintings into utility articles to save it from extinction will enhance its marketability and productivity to create a livelihood.

"Our heritage is what makes us,
We should ensure that it is left for posterity to cherish."