AHILYABAI HOLKAR: A QUEEN WHO GAVE BIHAR ITS PRESTIGIOUS TREASURE AND ART

The black stone is one of the most beautiful, strong and pretty expensive stones that is world famous in today’s world. In the commercial world, it is known as black granite but the real product is a dark grey which is further polished dark grey to black. Almost 200 years back, Ahilyabai, the queen of Bihar’s small village made this product world-famous and now, It is one of the most demanding types of granite. 

There is a very old temple named Vishnupada temple on the bank of the Phagula river of Patharkatti village which is surrounded by rocks and water, the temple was built by Queen Ahilyabai Holkar. The oral history of the places believes that she wanted a craftsman who can help her in building the temple and carve the stones in such a way that the temple can survive grating weather conditions but due to crisis in local craftsman availability, she had to acquire them from Rajasthan’s gour community. When the work of the temple ended and the workers wanted to return at that time, they were offered a piece of land by the king so that they do not leave the place and can have a livelihood. As the area came under the king, he allowed them to practice their art on the stones and carve them but later they were charged Rs. 1.50. 

Although Ahilyabai played a very small role in the migration of the craftsmen, she ended up generating a livelihood for several and soon the area which was allotted to the craftsmen turned into a small village of people of art and craft.  People not only from India but from the outer country also visit the place to buy sculptures of gods as well as products for home décor and thalis made from black stone. 

Ashok Sinha, director of Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan (UMSAS) confirms that stone cravings were present way before the maharani indulged in the crafting of the temple. Several sculptures were found in some areas of Bihar especially in Nalanda which are older than the temple. Such stones are only found in Patharkatti village. He also gave a hint that Ahilyabai might have revived the dying craft by construction of the temple as it is not a surprise for him because the art has been revived several times throughout the period and in fact, the recent attempt was made a few years back in the 1960s by the UMSAS.

Rabindra Nath Gour, the eighth or ninth generation of the craftsman says that “ It is amusing how art keeps coming back after every few years. Our ancestors were employed by the maharani in 1787 and since then we are living in Patharkatti and keeping the art alive by passing them from generation to generation.” He himself did not know the value of the black stones until he visited an exhibition in Odisha where he witnessed that the items made from the black stones are guarded by security. And that moment he realized that the 200 years old stoneware kept in his house is a treasure.

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