The Incredible Inlay Art: The famous Marble Inlay and Bone Inlay from Agra and Rajasthan


The Incredible Inlay Art

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder… But this common adage isn’t true in the case of inlay art. This indigenous art form is capable of leaving everyone spellbound at the first look. Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World is a perfect example of marble inlay art.

The beautiful art supposedly developed around the 16th century in Italy as Pietra Dura and was brought to India by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Known as Parchin Kari, it is a technique of inlaying semi-precious stones such as jade, onyx, turquoise, mother of pearl, etc. in marble, wood, ivory, and even metals.

In this article, I will talk about two of the most precious and lavish forms of Inlay art – Marble Inlay and Bone Inlay.

Marble Inlay

This is the most ancient form of Inlay art practiced exclusively in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, and some areas of Rajasthan. Most of the works of architecture from the Mughal Era are designed in marble and bear this extravagant art form on their walls and floors. The intricate details of the pattern are filled beautifully with colourful stones. Besides thin slices of marble, the grooves carved on marble are filled with precious or semi-precious stones like onyx, jasper, carnelian, opal, jade, turquoise, etc. The love and attraction among people for the intricate and mesmerizing monuments from medieval times forced the artisans to replicate this beautiful art on various utility and home décor products. The never-ending list of marble inlay work includes flower vases, fruit bowls, marble inlay tiles, pen and candle stands, photo frames, wall hanging plates, trays, tables, jewellery boxes, figurines of animals and divinity, coasters, chess boards, etc.

The process involved

The Marble is first to cut into the desired shape according to the decorative item to be made. Tabletops, coasters, plates, ashtray, flower vases, trinket boxes are some of the popular artifacts made in marble.

A design of either geometrical patterns or floral motifs is drawn on a brass sheet and transferred onto the marble. The carving tools called ‘tankiya’ and ‘narzi’ are used to engrave the pattern by creating grooves on the surface of the marble.

The semi-precious stones are selected on the basis of design i.e. flowers, leaves, animals, birds, etc., and are shaped using a hand-operated machine called Emery wheel.

The colourful stones are then stuck in the grooves on marble using traditional glue and left to dry. After it is dried completely, the inlaid marble surface and the edges are smoothened using fine sandpaper. It is finally polished and a remarkable piece ready for use.  

Bone Inlay

Another art form that has transcended medieval times with evidence of embellished furniture from the Mughal and Rajput eras is the magnificent Bone Inlay art.  

Bone inlay is the ornamental technique that involves inserting delicate, hand-carved pieces of bone or mother of pearl into the surface of an object. The patterns followed are generally floral and geometric. The sophisticated and timeless art of bone inlay is passed from one generation to the next and is practiced exclusively in the Jodhpur, Udaipur, and Jaipur regions of Rajasthan.

Bone inlay is a spectacular art with beautiful and unique patterns carved on various pieces of furniture and no two pieces designed by the skilled craftsmen are the same. The luxurious furniture crafted under this art lends an exotic appeal to a simple room and can never go unnoticed by anyone. Whether it is a cabinet, chest, table, chair, stool, bed, photo frame, cupboard, or even mirror, this intriguing Indian art in all its form is praised and exported to several places across the world.

The process involved

Firstly, a pattern is carved out from the material. This material can be either mother of pearl or cruelty-free polished bone from camels that have died of natural causes. Then depending on the utility item that needs to be crafted, the base object is chosen. This can be either wood, metal, or ivory. The designs are carved on these to match the prepared design so that the delicate pieces of bone or mother of pearl can be neatly fit onto the surface. After this, the resin in contrasting colours is filled around the bone shapes giving the final touch to a magnificent piece of furniture.

Caring an Inlay artifact

Since Inlay art is done using sensitive materials like marble, semi-precious stones, bones, and mother of pearl, dust the objects regularly with a dry soft cloth only for a long-lasting shine. The use of harsh chemicals must be avoided on surfaces. In case of spills or leaks, objects must be immediately cleaned with a mild cleanser using a soft cloth to avoid stains. Heavy and sharp pointed objects should not be brought in contact with these objects. Always handle these delicate artifacts with extreme care to avoid any sort of breakage.