Opening the door to legacies- the story of the sikligar community

Opening the door to legacies- the story of the sikligar community

History is filled with tales of how progress, or disruption, can render the once celebrated skills of entire communities out of business. The Sikligar community, the hereditary weapon-makers for the Sikh Gurus, serves as a striking example.

Imagine the irony - the very hands that once crafted the swords used by Guru Gobind Singh and Maharaja Ranjit Singh's armies, now find themselves turning keys in the bustling city of Delhi. A chance encounter while duplicating keys for a new storeroom made us realize that the keymakers were predominantly Sardars. Delving deeper, we discovered they belonged to the Sikligar community, their artistry having shifted from the battlefield to our doorsteps.

This shift wasn't driven by choice, but by circumstance. The British Raj, with its inherent fears, together with advancements in weaponry, deemed the Sikligar's traditional craft a threat. A 350-year legacy of metalworking was abruptly turned illegal, pushing the community to the margins. Today, scattered across 10 Indian states, they struggle with societal prejudice, often stereotyped as criminals due to their past profession.

The Sikligar community's origins themselves are covered in intrigue. Some claim Rajput descent, escaping discrimination from Islamic invaders and taking up weapon polishing as a form of disguise. Another narrative paints them as Rajput soldiers who turned to blacksmithing after the defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan by Mohammed Ghori. Regardless of their origin story, one fact remains undeniable - their exceptional skill in metalworking was long celebrated.

The ban on weapon-making during the British era forced the Sikligar community to adapt. Their artistry, mastered through generations, found new expression in crafting everyday tools. The Hindu Sikligar community of Gujarat, for instance, continues to sharpen knives, scissors, and agricultural implements. However, economic marginalization persists, with instances of child labour a harsh reality.

While a small portion continues the outlawed practice of weapon-making to make ends meet, the majority have taken up new jobs. Key making, as we witnessed in Delhi, is a testament to their ability to adapt their skills to a changing world.

The Sikligars' story is a testament to the enduring spirit of our country's artisans. It highlights the importance of safeguarding these traditional crafts and the communities behind them. Project Virasat plays a crucial role in achieving this by:

  • Research: We conduct comprehensive primary and secondary research in order to identify artforms and artisans in need of our intervention. In addition to actively seeking artforms, we stay constantly aware and vigilant about the various nuanced instances in our daily lives.  From the embroidery on a traditional dress to the metalwork on a household utensil, these communities' skills are deeply ingrained in our everyday experiences. This vigilance, alongside our research efforts, allows us to understand the true depth of their contribution to our heritage.
  • Market Access: Project Virasat helps artisans bridge the gap between themselves and potential customers by creating platforms to showcase and sell their products.
  • Preservation Efforts: The project actively documents and archives traditional techniques, ensuring their survival for future generations.
  • Providing Skill Development: The project equips artisans with the skills and knowledge needed to adapt their crafts to contemporary tastes and market demands.

This story of the Sikligar community resonates deeply with Project Virasat's mission. It's a stark reminder of the fading of cultural heritage and the importance of its preservation. Project Virasat strives to ensure that the flames of these dying art forms continue to flicker. The Sikligar's story is a call to action, reminding us to appreciate the artistry behind everyday things.