Parchin Kari also known as Pacchikari in recent times, is a method of inlaying colored marbles or semi-precious stones into a stone base, often in geometric or flower patterns. The inspiration for the craft is the beautiful Pietra dura work done in the Taj Mahal and the tomb of Itimad-ud- Daulah. The art of marble inlay or “Parchin kari” was introduced in India in the 17th century by the great Mughal Emperor “Shah Jahan” who envisioned the decoration of the Taj Mahal using this unique decorative art. The inlay is so fine that the inlaid patterns seem to have grown out of the marble, hence it is hardly possible to detect the incisions.
Pietre dure is an Italian plural meaning of “hardstones” the term embraces all gem engraving and hardstone carving, the inlay of semi- precious stones- agate, turquoise, cornelian, jasper, bloodstone, and mother -of- pearl, malachite and lapis lazuli- in marble is unique in Agra. The Pachhikari craftsmen of Agra who are predominantly Muslims are said to be descendants of those same master craftsmen who built the “Taj Mahal”.
In the process of marble –inlay, stone slivers are carefully shaped into minute petals, leaves, and stems on a manually operated emery wheel. Often, a single flower is composed of as many as 40 pieces that may take a whole week of painstaking shape and inlay. The craftsman matches the shape and inlay and also matches the shapes to a brass template. The designs mainly include floral patterns which are based on Italian and geometrical designs, among which some are extremely delicate. The marble surface is shallow carved, enough to embed the stones. The chisels are worked without a hammer or mallet. The carving has to be extremely crisp, so prior to chiseling, the surface is coated with red earth that makes the engraved lines of the pattern stand out, making it easier for the craftsmen to carve and inlay. The depressions are filled in with white cement that melts on heating. The marble surface is heated and the stones laid flush in it. Any tiny gaps in the inlay are filled in with white cement. The surface is buffed and polished. Inlay is also done on alabaster, gorara stone and black marble. There are specialized craftsmen for different steps of inlay. The master craftsmen designs the inlays. Other craftsmen cut the stone, glue and finish the pieces. The commercial usage of marble inlays include dining tables, coffee tables and garden tables. They can also be placed outdoors, as marble is stain free, offers great resistance to the forces of nature, and can withstand high temperatures.