The city of Agra is known for its rich traditional handicrafts and most of these crafts have a deep and interesting history behind them. Drawing their influences from the various rulers of Agra, these crafts retain their royal aura till today.

Marble Inlay Work

Agra is famous for its marble inlay work, which is artwork done on marble. Agra is more popularly known for the parchin kari work, which involves very precise and minute inlay work. This classical art form rose to fame during the Mughal era, particularly after the construction of the Taj Mahal. It involves shaping small pieces of semi-precious stones in patterns of flower petals, leaves etc. These are then fitted together to look like a complete flower or animal. This art is believed to have been derived from a similar Italian art form called pietra dura (hard stones), which started in Florence in the 16th century. This was brought to the Indian subcontinent by European travellers, who impressed emperor Shah Jahan with their exquisite craft. The Taj Mahal is the perfect specimen of parchin kari work. Beautiful works can be seen on the cenotaphs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, where the same flower patterns have been repeated with exactly the same number of stones in each. This craft has been passed down generations for more than 350 years. The tomb of Amir Khusro, sufi musician and poet, also features some beautiful marble inlay work.

Marble Inlay Work

Leathercraft

Agra's markets and lanes bustle with craftsmen manufacturing leather goods and shops selling them. An industry that is integral to the fabric of life here, it is a legacy of the Mughal rule. Legend has it that Mughal emperor Akbar once issued a diktat that all his soldiers should wear shoes. To implement this order, shoemakers from all over the empire were summoned to Agra, the kingdom's capital and leather goods began to be made in earnest. Some of the more esteemed soldiers were given leather shields. Today, the city is home to several smallscale leather goods manufacturing units. The Government Leather Institute located here is said to be Asia's largest shoe manufacturing hub. You can buy leather shoes, belts, purses and wallets here, along with leather accessories like gloves, jackets etc. Head to Sadar Bazaar, which lies close to the Taj Mahal and is one of the most reputed markets for leather products. One can also get good bargains at Kinari Bazaar, Munro Road and Shilapagram Crafts Village.

Mirror Work

Mirror work is a centuries-old craft that is also known as 'sheesha' or 'abhala bharat' embroidery. In this, mirrors of various shapes like circular, square, triangular, polygonal and hexagonal are fixed on the cloth through cross-stitch embroidery. Different types of fabrics can be used for these, including silk, chiffon, cotton, crepe and georgette. These are then designed into attractive apparels like sarees, cushion covers, salwaar kameez and belts. The origin of this embroidery can be traced back to the 17th century in Iran. It was brought to India by various travellers during the Mughal period and originally it was done using mica and then glass.

Mirror Work

Zardozi

Zardozi work is a metal thread embroidery that is a speciality of the city of Agra. It was once used to embellish the ensemble of the kings and royals. Moreover, walls of royal tents, wall hangings, scabbards and paraphernalia of regal horses and elephants were also done in zardozi. This beautiful embroidery involves making elaborate designs with gold and silver threads. Precious stones and pearls add to its beauty. Zardozi has existed in India from the times of the Rig Veda and there are numerous mentions of zari in the attires of gods. However, at that time, the embroidery was done with real gold leaves and silver wires. Today, copper wires with a golden or silver polish are used along with a silk thread. Two Persian words 'zar' meaning gold and 'dozi' meaning embroidery make up the word 'zardozi'. This Persian embroidery form gained significance in the 17th century under the rule of Mughal emperor Akbar. The process of doing zardozi embroidery is an intricate one. Firstly, the craftsmen trace the design on fabrics of silk, velvet or satin. It is then stretched over a wooden frame and needles are used to weave in zardozi. Today it is done on lehengas, sarees, salwaar kameez and even shoes.

Zardozi