Of all the handicrafts of Orissa the most unique and the
finest, in fact the queen among them, is silver filigree, locally called "Tarakasi".
The craft is localised to Cuttack
town and a few villages in Cuttack district. The process consists of
drawing silver through a series of consecutively smaller holes to produce
fine strands of wire. These wires are then made into various shapes by
deft hands of the craftsmen by bending them into different designs and
soldering them with pincer and scissors. Silver used by the artisans is
usually of high purity often exceeding 90%.
Items manufactured cover a wide range though they can be broadly divided into a few categories. First, there are the ornaments for the ladies, which include necklaces, brooches, ear pendants, anklets, hairpins, decorative key rings and bangles etc. There are also a few ornamental items for men like tie pins and cufflinks.
Next are the decorative items like boats or "biota", replicas of temples, horses, elephants and other animals and chariots besides a variety of other items. Lastly, comes the utility items like plates, cups, bowls, glasses mascara containers, indigenous spoon called "Belas" for feeding milk to young children, incense containers, vermilion containers and ladies handbags.
A Socio-Cultural Significance
The silver filigree and other silver items have, like other handicrafts, a very important socio-cultural function. The child's first solid food, usually a sweet dish of rice, 'kheer', is served in a silver bowl and the elder specially grand-parents take pride in presenting the silver bowl for this function known as "Anna Prasana".
Like brass and bell metal items the bride is also usually presented a set of silver dishes, which is reserved for offering food to the deities during religious festivals. Many temples have a set of silver ornaments for the presiding deities including silver crowns, which are used on ceremonial occasions. Silver filigree has been an important export item of Orissa from ancient times and has been a symbol of the dizzy heights of excellence reached by Orissa's craftsmen.