Lac is a resinous substance secreted by an insect called kerria lacca. The insect hosts itself on the branches of certain trees such as kusum/papal and forms a red encrustation around it. The coated branches are cut and sieved and the material obtained is washed to remove all impurities. The resulting seed lac is used in making several products.
Lac is the source of resin, wax, and dye. It collected from forests in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal, and Assam. Lac is available in different qualities – dark black, brown, and light golden – the latter being the best and most expensive. Reference to lac can be found
in Vedas. The Atharvaveda provides a detailed account of lac, its production, and uses. Ayurveda stresses the importance of lac in medical therapies. India is one of the largest producers of lac and its principal exporter. It is widely used in food processing, textile, leather, cosmetics, varnish, and printing industries. Being bio-degradable and eco-friendly its usage is becoming highly popular.
In handicrafts the use of lac is well known in making jewellry. Lac is used to hold the ornament when it is being set with precious/semi-precious stones or enameled. It is also filled inside the ornaments to give strength and hold their shapes. In repousse work, metal sheets are placed on lac and designs hammered on the sheets. Lac bangles from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Hyderabad, and Bihar are extremely popular. Jaipur is a big centre for lac bangles. They are considered a sign of good omen and are worn by married women on all auspicious occasions in Gujarat and Rajasthan with red and green being the traditional colors. In Bihar, lac refuse called kiri forms the core of the lac bangles. The outer colored layer of the bangle is made out of better quality lac. Traditionally, lac bangles in Bihar are worn by married women belonging to Bhumij, Mo, Oraon, Munda, and Santal tribes. Lac bangles are made plain or with lehariya designs on them or studded with glass, precious and semiprecious stones. Lac is also used in making lacquerware toys and furniture.
Lakhera or laheri is the hereditary artisan community of Hindus invoved in lac bangle making in Bihar,Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Lac bangles are worn by Hindus. In Rajasthan lac bangles are made by Muslims and worn by Hindus.
Regions of production
Rajasthan – Jaipur and Ajmer are important centres.
Bihar - Muzafarpur, Laheriasarai, Madhubani, and Lakhisarai are especially well known for this craft (locally called lahathi).
Hyderabad – Lad bazaar in old city is the main production centre and market for lac bangles. The base is made in pure lac and embellished with glass pieces of various shapes.
Chapdi (black lac), orange chapdi (light golden lac), beroza, giya pathar powder, coal, sequins, semiprecious stones, and colors in powder form– pevdi (yellow), safeda (lithophone), mirgam (copper), green, chamki (gold).