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Global demand for local chessboards (Read 4030 times)
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Global demand for local chessboards
20. Jan 2005 at 20:53
If the city is famous for the Golden Temple in the spiritual sphere, its enterprising people have made it known all over the world as the manufacturing centre of chessboards and pieces.  
A large number of residents are unaware that locally manufactured chessboards and pieces are in great demand in countries like the USA, the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Australia and Canada. Amritsar exports chessboards and pieces worth over Rs 40 crore to these countries annually.
Amritsar used to be a centre of producing wares made of ivory. The ivory work is as old as the holy city, which was established by the fourth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Ram Das. He brought 52 artisans from various parts of the country and settled them here. Chessboards and pieces began to be made of ivory a little before 1947.
It is not that chessboard and pieces are made only here in India. In fact, different regions specialise in a particular variety. Varanasi is famous for producing chessboards and pieces made of stone, while Jaipur is noted for Ambavari chessboards and pieces made of wood. However, local chessboards and pieces are preferred in foreign countries for their finesse and beautiful carving.
Mr Satnam Singh Jabbal, a manufacturer, said artistically-prepared 'horse' was in great demand overseas, as local artisans had gained mastery in making engraved horses.
Earlier, chessboards and pieces used to be made largely of ivory. However, after the imposition of ban on the use of ivory by the Indian Government, ivory was replaced by camel bone. The majority of chessboards and pieces are made of wood.  
Mr Jabbal said that wood for the purpose was even brought from other states. Ebony and Rosewood were brought from Orissa, while Red Sandal was brought from Karnataka.  
About a dozen big manufacturing units and nearly 40 small units are engaged in this work. These units are located in different parts of the city, including Focal Point, Sultanwind Road, Tarn Taran Road, Dhapai Road and Chamrang Road. In the country, local chessboards and pieces find their way to Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Chennai and Bangalore.
Keeping an eye on foreign customers, almost all traders have made websites to reach out to them. Increasing competitiveness and pace of development has forced the manufacturers to adopt machines. Recalling old days, Mr Jabbal said machines were first introduced in the early 1970s. Earlier, entire work used to be done manually, he added.
Mr Jabbal said his father used to prepare chessboards and pieces manually in Lahore, and after the Partition, his family settled here. "At that time, there used to be only four to five houses engaged in the work," he said. He added that besides chessboards and pieces, they manufactured walking stick, smoke pipe, ivory jewellery, jewellery box and other such items. But now they prepared chessboards and pieces only.  
He rued that though the work came under "handicrafts", the government did not provide any incentive. He said they used to be given 15 per cent amount against the export of Rs 1 lakh, but the facility was withdrawn in early 1990s.  
Another manufacturer, Mr Harbhajan Singh, said the manufacturing of chessboards and pieces was passing through tough times these days. The cost of production had increased manifold, as most of the wood came from the southern states. He lamented that though the items came under "handicrafts", the Punjab Government had not done anything concrete to sell them in its handicraft centres.
Expressing his anguish, Mr Harbhajan Singh said the Punjab Government was not helping effectively to facilitate the export of chessboards and pieces, which could boost the declining trade.
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