Tarpai (low table)

Punjab, India

NWHSA: MET104 has long been known as a “trivet” in the collection. There was little known about it except as an example of metal crafts from India. Through fieldwork conducted on our research project, Vernacular Furniture of North-West India, we were able to identify that our “trivet” was in fact a tarpai, a low table used in the Malwa region in Punjab, India.

When the research team was in Punjab, they met Balkar Hansji in Sangrur who kindly invited them to spend some time at his family’s house. In a small room on the terrace of the house, Balkar Hansji had stored several old objects and furniture. Among these was a tarpai (low table) that he brought out for the team to see. He said that a tarpai was used to place a plate on while eating a meal. Rice or roti, sometimes both, are served on a thali (plate) with dal, vegetables, and other accompaniments in katori (bowls). The thali would be placed on the surface of the tarpai. While the team photographed the tarpai, Balkar Hans’s daughter brought out a mudha; a type of floor seat used in Punjab. She explained that while eating in such a manner, the person would sit cross-legged on a mudha.

Such experiences from the field were captured through a series of paintings by artist Pooja Acharya, one of which shows the use of a tarpai.

The name tarpai is derived from the word – teen pai (three legs) in Hindi. The three legs are made from iron and the top from brass. They are joined to one another with the help of a peripheral metal sheet fixed at the underside of the top section. The legs are supported with three iron rods fixed to the surface which act like brackets. The top is decorated with patterns using piercing techniques.

The tarpai and paintings by Pooja Acharya showing the use of vernacular furniture are on display in our latest exhibition, ‘Collections, Collaborations, Contexts: Stories of vernacular furniture and everyday objects from north-west India’. They will also feature in the forthcoming publication, Smarya: Vernacular furniture of Punjab and Haryana co-authored by our curator Mansi S Rao, Ben Cartwright, Jay Thakkar, and Abhishek Ruikar.