UP: Seven months on, artisans make no bones about hardship after closure of abattoirs
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UP: Seven months on, artisans make no bones about hardship after closure of abattoirs

The shortage of buffalo bones is killing the trade, say UP’s bone craftsmen.

lucknow Updated: Nov 22, 2017 16:15 IST
Oliver Fredrick
Oliver Fredrick
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
UP’s bone craftsmen,Yogi Adityanath government,Uttar Pradesh
Israr Ahmed, a craftsman, received the President’s Award for his fine carvings in 2016. He is among 350 bone craftsmen from Lucknow.(HT Photo)

Just a few days after assuming office, the Yogi Adityanath government ordered the closure of illegal and mechanised abattoirs across Uttar Pradesh in March, affecting not only meat traders but also UP’s bone craftsmen.

Seven months on, the government move has put the craftsmen in a difficult situation and rung alarm bells for the 400-year-old rare trade of bone art due to a shortage of buffalo bones.

Lucknow, the erstwhile city of nawabs, was known for producing the best bone art though the craft was also practised in many other districts, including Ghaziabad, Moradabad and Bareilly.

“The City of Nawabs leads in bone craft. The finest bone work is done here. There are over a dozen ‘ustads’, who have not only bagged the president’s award for their intrinsic art work but also represented India at the international level,” said Israr Ahmed, a bone carver and national award winner who has given shape to thousands of pieces of bone art in his 40-year career.

Israr, who owns a small workshop in Khadra locality here, said closure of meat shops and slaughterhouses had affected more than peoples’ menus in UP.

“Artisans are idle due to non- availability of bones,” he said, sharpening a miniature chisel and other special tools designed by him to suit his carving skills.

He designs and carves these tools when he is out of work.

Israr said the City of Nawabs used to be the hub of bone carving with over 350 families engaged in the trade until government’s order for closure of abattoirs hit the business. The order was issued on March 27, eight days after Yogi Adityanath took oath as the UP chief minister. The directive brought bone carving work to a grinding halt.

“In Lucknow, Hussainabad, Daulatganj, Thakurganj, Yaseenganj, Wazir Bagh, Billaujpura, Khadra and Mehbullapur used to be the hub of bone carving. It’s more than seven months but the artisans have no bones to work on,” said Mohammed Jalaluddin, another national level artisan from Hussainabad, Lucknow.

The bone crisis in the state capital began soon after three slaughterhouses, operating in the heart of the city, were closed after the government crackdown.

The Allahabad high court had ordered closure of three slaughterhouses – in Motijheel, Fatehganj and Maulviganj areas of the city – on March 11, 2015. But, all these kept operating illegally. However, these were shut after the state government’s crackdown in March.

And this led to the bone crisis.

Asked why bones were still unavailable when meat shops were more or less open, Jalaluddin said shops were opening gradually as the process of issuing licenses was “too slow”.

“As a stopgap arrangement, the district administration has asked the buffalo meat sellers to buy meat from a legal slaughterhouse in Unnao, 40km from Lucknow, and sell it in Unnao. And the licenses too are being issued only to sell the meat and not for slaughter,” he pointed out.

The local slaughterhouses that used to serve as the bulk supplier of bones (preferably femur) are still lying closed. “Meat shops sell the meat of only one or two buffaloes a day. That means only four to eight femur bones per animal a day are available. This is too little to meet the requirement of an individual bone carver who needs 3-4 quintals for two weeks,” he said.

He said camel bones were also carved but the artisans largely depended on buffalo bones which were less expensive. The buffalo bones too are white like the camel bones.

If nothing were done to ease the shortage of bones, the 400-year-old art of bone carving would go into oblivion, the artisans said.

Bone carving got maximum patronage during the Nawabi era, according to historians.

Roshan Taqi, a noted historian from Lucknow, said, “In those times, Lucknow used to be the centre of bone carving on ivory tusks. But the trade stopped after the ban on ivory was imposed, forcing bone craftsmen to switch to buffalo and camel bones for their survival.”

Dr PK Singh, city health officer with the Lucknow Municipal Corporation (LMC), said: “The Lucknow Municipal Corporation is constructing an ultramodern slaughterhouse in Bindaua, Mohanlalganj at a total cost of Rs 110 crore, phasing out three old slaughterhouses. Construction work is expected to be completed by 2019.”

The craftsmen said the shortage of bones was killing the trade that was already on its last legs. Some craftsmen have shifted to other vocations, becoming carpenters or opening grocery shops in order to provide for their families.

But there are a few who are still hopeful and think that the government’s order is just a dark cloud and a silver lining will emerge soon.


Israr Ahmed, a craftsman, received the President’s Award for his fine carvings in 2016. He is among 350 bone craftsmen from Lucknow. Ahmed learnt the art from his uncle Abdul Khalid, who used to live in Wazir Bagh locality in Old City area. “I grew up seeing him (my uncle) playing with bones. Hence, I decided to try my hand at bone crafting,” he said.

Ahmed, who started working at the early age of 15, worked for eight years with his uncle after which he decided to start his own business.

“But making a mark on one’s own in the bone art business was not easy. Initially, I did not receive any orders, but the lean patch didn’t disappoint me. I kept on honing my skills,” Ahmed said.

In 2002, Ahmed got his first award from the UP government for making a unique lamp made of camel bone. It took almost five months for him to complete the lamp. In 2007, he bagged an international award for making a beautiful partition. “It was my best work so far. It was a big, almost three- metre long partition and it took around 30 months to complete this work. I sold it for around two lakhs,” he said.

He bagged the President’s award in 2016 for a jewellery box that he made of buffalo bone.

Owing to his reputation as one of finest artisans in the state capital, he never faced a shortage of orders, largely from exporters.

But, he is worried about the present scenario as he is unable to meet the orders. He said if situation remained the same, the art will fade away.


Lucknow has 350 families still engaged in bone carving.

According to a rough estimate, each artisan’s family buys two to three quintals either weekly or bi-weekly.

Buffalo bone costs Rs 45 per kg and camel bone Rs 100 per kg.

Craftsmen used to procure buffalo bones from city’s three slaughterhouses that are lying closed after UP the government’s crackdown.

Bone art is said to be 400 years old. It got maximum patronage during the Nawabi era when ivory tusks were used.

Bone craftsmen switched to buffalo and camel bone after the ban on ivory tusks.

In Lucknow, Hussainabad, Daulatganj, Thakurganj, Yaseenganj, Wazir Bagh, Billaujpura, Khadra and Mehbullapur areas are the hub of bone carving trade.

Bone carving is also carried out in Hyderabad, Rajasthan, Kolkata and Chennai.


The bones are first cleaned, trimmed and then boiled for at least four hours for a clean look.

After that, bones are dipped in a solution of hydrogen peroxide and kept under the sun for seven hours. The pieces are then joined together using adhesive. This is followed by engraving, said Jalaluddin, a craftsman.

Craftsmen make several patterns using miniature chisels, drills and special tools. The final product is then buffed, polished and painted.

First Published: Nov 22, 2017 16:15 IST