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Handicrafts Of India

Crafts in India have added colours, beauty and brightness to the Indian lives. They represent ceaseless flow of creativity. Painstakingly done with hands, craftsmen and women pour their soul into each art work and in every form the craftsperson transfer their own kinetic energy, their songs, and their stories and become part of their creation.

Generally the routine forms of all their craftsmanship is established by tradition and inherited from generation to generation. They work in communities with people of different religions, castes and sub-castes, minorities and majorities- all of them contribute to our and represent a crafts and culture. They combine and make a kaleidoscope of a living, vibrant culture of our people as a whole.

The richness and variety in our crafts is due to an endless diversity in India starting from its physical features to geological structure, fauna and flora, different races and languages. India 's culture has been enriched by successive waves of migration which were absorbed into the Indian way of life. They brought with them their art, literature, music, languages, thoughts and philosophies.

The successive waves of migration into India started with the Indo-Greeks (2 nd Century B.C.), followed by the Kushans (First century A.D.), the incursions from the northwest by Arab, Turkish, Persian and others beginning in the early 8th century A.D. and culminating with the establishment of the Muslim empire by the 13 th century, and finally the advent of Europeans -- the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Danes and the French. These interactions over the years led to introduction of newer elements in India 's arts, music, literature, customs and traditions, thus enriching our cultural heritage.

From the very ancient times India not only absorbed the foreign cultures into its composite fold, but it also managed to spread the rich elements of its own unique culture in different parts of the world. It is historically recorded that the Chola rulers had cultural contacts with countries like Ilamandalam ( Sri Lanka ) , Sri Vijaya (Sumatra) , Chavakam (Java) , Kamboja ( Cambodia ) and Kadaram ( Malay Peninsula ). One of the evidences is the various Southeast Asian languages showing strong influence of Sanskrit.

History of craft and trade in India
Several sources point to a thriving system of international trade that linked the ports of southern India with those of Ancient Rome. While a good portion of Indo-Roman trade was reciprocal, ( Rome supplying exotic items such as cut-gems, corals, wines, perfumes, papyrus, copper, tin and lead ingots), the trade balance was considerably weighted in India 's favor. The balance of payments had to be met in precious metals, either gold or silver coinage, or other valuables like red coral (i.e. the hard currency of the ancient world). India was particularly famous for its ivory work and its fine muslins (known in Roman literature as 'woven air') The Silappathikaarum (The Ankle Bracelet), a Tamil romance (roughly dated to the late second century AD), provides a glimpse of the maritime wealth of the cosmopolitan cities of South India . The Silappathikaarum suggests that the markets offered a great variety of precious commodities prized in the ancient world. Special streets were earmarked for merchants that traded in items such as coral, sandalwood, jewellery, faultless pearls, pure gold, and precious gems. Skilled craftspeople brought their finished goods such as fine silks, woven fabrics, and luxurious ivory carvings. Archeological finds of spectacular burial jewellery in southern India appear to corroborate such accounts.

Northern India also had its flourishing urban centers. This can be inferred from descriptions of an archeological site in ancient Taxila that had yielded magnificent and well-preserved gold jewellery, notably necklaces, ear-pendants and finger-rings, characterized by a mastery of granulation and inlay. While most ornaments from that period have not survived, sculpture from several sites shows heavy adornment. Patliputra (now Patna ) during the Mauryan period was described by travelers as one of the grandest cities of that period.

The records of the Greek geographer Strabo (63 B.C. – A.D. 20) and the first century Greek source Periplus, mentioned the Gujarati port of Barygaza , (Broach) as exporting a variety of textiles. Archaeological evidence from Mohenjo-Daro , establishes that the complex technology of mordant dyeing had been known in the subcontinent from at least the second millennium B.C. The use of printing blocks in India may go as far back as 3000 B.C. and some historians are of the view that India may have been the original home of textile printing. "The export of printed fabrics to China can be dated to the fourth century B.C. where they were much used and admired, and later, imitated." - (Stuart Robinson: 'A History of Printed Textiles') . Also in the thirteenth century, Marco Polo recorded the exports of Indian textiles to China and South East Asia from the Masulipattinam (Andhra) and Coromandel (Tamil) coasts in the "largest ships" then known.

Prestige trade textiles such as Patola (double ikat silk in natural dyes) from Patan and Ahmedabad, and decorative cottons in brilliant color-fast dyes from Gujarat and the Coromandel Coast were sought after by the Malaysian royalty and wealthy traders of the Philippines . The port city of Surat (in Gujarat) emerged as the major distribution point for patola destined for South-East Asia , and was frequented by the ships of the Dutch East India Company. Textiles also comprised a significant portion of the Portuguese trade with India . These included embroidered bedspreads and wall hangings possibly produced at Satgaon, the old mercantile capital of Bengal, (near present day Calcutta ). Produced in the Golconda hinterland, kalamkaris - i.e. finely painted cotton fabrics were bought or commissioned from the port city of Masulipattinam .

Several textile producing centers that catered to the internal market and to the overland international trade were located in Northern and Central India , in the kingdoms of the Rajputs and the Mughals, each with their own unique specialization. While Kashmir was well known for its woolen weaves and embroidery, cities like Benaras, Ujjain , Indore and Paithan (near Aurangabad , Maharashtra ) were known for their fine silks and brocades. Rajasthan specialized in all manner of patterned prints and dyed cloths.

India was known for its overflowing treasuries, replete with a variety of precious metals and gems. Bazaars traded in precious metals and stones. As already mentioned, Tamil texts dating to the 2nd Century AD refer to them, as do the chronicles of the 14th century traveller Ibn Batuta of Tunisia , and Europeans who visited the Vijaynagar, or Golconda kingdoms. Vladimir Zwalf (in Jewelry, 7000 years - Hugh Tait, Editor) observes: "The ostentatious display of jewels at the Mughal court mentioned by all visitors to it is borne out by contemporary miniature paintings and a large quantity of extant pieces. Jewellery was worn by both men and women, and was also used in the ornamentation of arms and amour, furniture and vessels. Gems dominate Mughal jewellery. India was a major source and trading centre for precious stones." Shah Jahan was particularly knowledgeable about gems, and personally supervised some of the works executed in the " karkhanas ".

D.H. Buchanan wrote in 'Development of Capitalist Enterprise in India , 1934' : "In India , steel was used for weapons, for decorative purposes and for tools, and remarkably high grade articles were produced. The old weapons are second to none, and it is said that the famous Damascus blades were forged from steel imported from Hyderabad in India . The iron column, called the Qutub pillar at Delhi , weighs over six tons and carries an epitaph composed about 415 A.D. No one yet understands how so large a forging could have been produced at that time." The craft of Bidri-ware which originated in the Deccan, in Bidar and spread northwards to centers like Lucknow , Uttar Pradesh required high metallurgical skills. The delicate inlay work required discipline and expertise, and additionally, required the knowledge of extraction of zinc (a primary constituent of the Bidri alloy). Unlike copper or iron, zinc was not easily extractable from its ore.

Jaigarh (near present day Jaipur) was home to one of Asia 's largest canon factories. Cannons played a crucial role in the expansion of Mughal rule in India

Decorative Crafts
Under the patronage of the various royal clans that ruled India , particularly the Mughals, the Rajputs and the Deccani nawabs, the decorative arts and crafts reached unprecedented heights. (These traditions were continued, and even augmented by later regional nawabs in Bengal, Mysore , Central India, Punjab, Awadh and Kashmir ). European traders did not fail to notice the relatively high quality of Indian craftsmanship and proceeded to set up their own " karkhanas" (factories) that rivaled the Mughal and Deccani establishments.

Hardwood furniture was a major product of Portuguese patronage, usually richly decorated with inlaid woods and ivory. Catering to the European markets, the items preserved the general forms of European furniture, but were embellished with expensive inlays and carvings that took their inspiration from Indian styles, particularly the Mughal. Several production centers, principally in Sind, Gujarat and the Deccan serviced this trade based in Goa . Mother-of-pearl was one of the materials often used in the decoration of such items, particularly small storage chests. These were produced principally in Ahmedabad and Cambay, and later in Surat . Gujarati furniture with mother-of-pearl inlay is recorded in the Baburnama (early 16th century).

The craft of paper Mache, extensively promoted by the Mughals and later by the Rajputs, also found favor with 17th century European traders who commissioned Kashmiri artists to produce for the European market.

There is evidence of pottery making, both handmade and wheel-thrown from all over India . At Harappa and Mohanjodaro, pottery has been excavated showing that this craft was well advanced. Rectangular kilns for firing were in use. Seals, grain and water containers were made that were put to use effectively.

The famous blue Pottery is another fine example of learning and adapting of another culture, skills and techniques. It has only been due to the conscious efforts made by the Maharajas of Jaipur to bring in these techniques, together with the adaptations made during subsequent periods elsewhere in India , Jaipur today is associated with blue pottery.

Glazed tiles first appeared in Delhi during the Tughlaq period (1321-1414 AD). These were Turkish in style. During the period starting from the slave dynasty, a large number of Central Asian architects, craftsmen and scholars migrated to India to escape Mongol persecution. They brought with them the skills which manifested in painted and incised lime work for interiors and glazed and can be seen on the domes, arches and minarets of the period.

The tradition of using glazed tiles, mainly blue but also crimson, yellow, orange, white, ochre, green and red, continued through the Mughal period. Popularly, this type of work was labeled Kashani , so called after Kashan in Persia . In India the centre where glazed tiles developed during these days were Delhi , Khurja, Agra , Meerut , Rampur and Bulandshahr. A large number of glazed kilns were centred at these areas. However, the transition from glazed tiles to pottery was a gradual one, the bazars (markets) at Delhi continued to sell some of the best products.

From the accounts of Ibn Batuta, who visited India during reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, it is evident that large quantities of blue and white wares entered India . This kept India in direct touch with Chinese blue and white developments. From Baburnnamah and the Mughal miniature paintings, it is seen that Babur and his friends were regularly served food on dishes sometimes blue and white. From the Mughal miniatures of the times of Emperor Jahangir, it is seen that Prince Khurram was weighed against various utensils including vases having two pairs of Chinese figurines on either side of the blue jars.

Although there is a paucity of records, it can be pronounced that masters of blue pottery did come and settle in Jaipur. From 1743 to 1835, Jaipur was ruled by four Maharajas. It was the period of decline of patronage from the Mughal Emperors of Delhi for craftsmen. Jaipur probably attracted them. In 1866 Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh started the Jaipur School of Art. The story has it that Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh met two brothers, i.e., Churamani and Kaluram, who were pioneers of turquoise blue pottery in Jaipur at a kite contest. The Maharaja's kite master was competing with these two brothers. The royal kite was cut in the sky and this was because Churamani had coated his kite string with glass dust from his blue green pottery workshop. The Maharaja's curiosity was aroused and upon being presented with the blue pottery, Churamani became his favorite. He asked the potter brothers to come and settle in Jaipur.

Also another story tells that the Delhi based Persian potter Atiqueh Saj had a disciple called Bhola. The kite flying brothers of Jaipur were sent to Delhi by Sawai Ram Singh to learn from Bhola. Contemporary documents corroborate the existence of Bhola who at that time was the best known Delhi potter. The story goes that one of his family members was sent to Jaipur to the School of Art . Under his supervision, pottery came to be decorated with more skill. In Jaipur, the two brothers were conferred with hereditary posts in the Maharaja's School of Art . Both the brothers sons worked, taught and were retired from the same school. Thus Jaipur became a flourishing school of Blue Pottery .

Thus, we see whether it is Textiles, Metallurgy, Jewellery, Pottery or any other craft for that matter, trade with each others' cultures, interaction and learning each others' skills have helped in making our crafts richer. Whether it is incursions from Arabs, Turks, Persians, the Mughal rule in India or the coming of Portuguese, Dutch or French- if we look back they all have contributed and enriched our cultural heritage.

The Secular References from History
Like the Mughals, the Deccani Nawabs were great patrons of arts with their secular approach. In their patronage of Ragamala paintings, the Deccani nawabs shared the tastes of the Rajputs, and later rulers of the Punjab hills and Punjab plains. Based on the romantic folk-lore of popular traditions, the ragamala painting became a highly sophisticated art form - its lyrical and expressive style appealing to Hindu, Muslim and Sikh patrons alike. Asad Beg, who chronicled the court of Bijapur's Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1586-1627), mentions that Adil Shah spoke Marathi and his Kitabi-Nauras, a collection of songs in Deccani Urdu were set to different ragas, some paying homage to Muslim saints, others recalling the Hindu deities Saraswati and Ganesha. Like Akbar, one of his most trusted officials was Antu Pandit. Another Hindu, Ramji, was head of the Bijapuri guild of jewelers and court adviser on matters of jewellery purchase and selection. And like in the 'karkhanas' (factories) of Akbar, skilled Hindu craftsmen were just as likely to find employment as skilled Muslims. Both courts strived towards perfection in their manufactures, and did not believe in religious discrimination.

Craftspeople employed in the Mughal ' karkhanas ' sought patronage from the regional courts of Awadh and Bengal, or Rajputana and Punjab, or the Marathas of Central India, all of who experienced a short lived but a brilliant cultural renaissance. Mughal and Hindu (or Sikh) styles were fused in the regions, producing several distinctive and synchronized traditions.

However, as the Mughal state after Aurangzeb crumbled and East India Company gained control- with the ban on textile and inability to enforce customs collections the crafts of that era suffered badly. They lost the prestige and respect they once enjoyed. It is important to note this difference between British colonizers and earlier conquerors that made India their home. Earlier conquerers had taken full advantage of India 's manufacturing skills. They either guided them in different directions, or attempted to enhance and refine them, for the British, India 's manufacturing strengths were unnecessary competition, and were best left to languish . Those who think the British are no different from India 's previous Islamic rulers do great injustice. Several of India 's previous rulers came as foreigners - as invaders and conquerers - but they lived and died in India . Consequently, the monuments they built, the artifacts they commissioned, the culture that they sponsored - all of it, is now the legacy of the people of the sub-continent. The riches that they acquired were recycled in the same land.

The Impact of Islamic civilization on Indian crafts has been profound . The Muslims brought their style of garments to India and adapted them to local materials, weather and wearing style. The sheer mull and chikan and katao -work angrakha and jamdaani s of the Mughal court came to be in complete harmony with the flowing dhoti and angavastra of Indian tradition.

In the karkhanas (factories) of Akbar and Jahangir, Indian craftsmen worked with Persian and Turkish masters to create new art forms that integrated the best of both cultures. The creation of beautiful objects was not merely an act of worship, but also extended to domestic interiors with woven, embroidered, sequined, patchwork and printed material as well as decorative exteriors with moulded stucco-work, glazed tiles, mosaic and mirror-work, fretted jalis , carved marble and inlay work. Abdus Samad, Akbar's famous master who produced gold coins with an image of Rama and Sita , seated among swans and flowers.

Thus, we see Islam's influence created a new freedom and secular culture, introducing abstract and decorative concepts in addition to existing figurative, narrative and symbolic ornamentation.

Present state of Handicrafts
Handicrafts are our composite heritage, gifted to us by our ancestors and we need to preserve them and pass them to our children and the future generations.

We have discussed how by the end of nineteenth century the great merchants of India were practically extinguished. The survival of crafts became more and more difficult. Further with industrialization spreading all over it hit the handicrafts industry the most. After independence as India worked hard towards development, living standards of people improved and with that increased greed to have more and more, wants to get richer and acquire latest mechanical and electronic gadgets.

Increasing influence of west cannot be ignored. With the result lifestyles have changed believing in use and throw. Market policies like have more at less prices, buy at discounted prices, buy one and get one free – with all these market tactics to attract buyers handicraft industry has not been able to compete.

Today, to be developed means to be a nuclear power, having latest technologies, making every city, every town like a Shanghai . There is no respect for ecosystem, no regard for human life.

The growth of artistic expression is a sign of cultivation of sensitivity of mellowing of humanism. The craftsmen use their hands and embroider or weave for hours as if praying in devotion. The reverence towards life, towards creativity, towards all fellow human –beings and nature comes naturally to them. Well known German writer, Goethe has said, "You will always find (hatred) strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture." (Johann W. von Goethe)

Handicrafts represent India 's rich culture. It is our pride and wealth and it is today under threat of extinction. In modern times, handicrafts fall under three categories: 1 st category being the luxury crafts like silk sarees with gold and silver work, silver ware, jewellery, ivory works, and works with stone or brass and so on. Second category of craft includes works of smiths, carpenters, weavers, tailors and potters. The third category includes articles of bamboo, grass or straw –the raw materials that don't cost much.

The appreciation of luxury crafts like silk, precious metals, ivory or rare wools are understandable. Firstly, the material itself is precious and imparts the virtue of scarcity. Secondly, their acquisition raises the possessor to the select few indicating power, influence and refined taste.

But because they are expensive and out of the reach of the vast majority of people in the country they are suffering from chilling effect. They are losing their function and degenerating into decoration pieces. Earlier the craftsmen used to have precise idea to what use his handicraft to be put but today it is no more possible to judge whether his work is going to be used at all or hung on the wall as a decoration. Today, Government and NGOs are making efforts that the handicrafts should reach more people. There are a number of government NGO organizations in India which provide support to the artisan and handicraft sectors like Delhi Craft Council working towards revitalization and promotion of traditional Indian crafts, founded by the late Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. Apart from Emporiums and Crafts Museum different non governmental organizations like SEWA, Dastkar, etc. are regularly bringing crafts to the people by means of Festivals, Melas and Exhibitions.

Handicrafts in India are rich and varied with an amazing sense of colour and form. Let us see some of the well known traditions –

Textile weaving
The textile tradition in India has been conditioned by a number of factors, like geography, climate, social customs, availability of raw-materials etc. a variety of raw-materials like silk, cotton, wool, jute etc. are used to make fabric.

The regions with cold climate have a rich array of woolen textiles . The world famous shahtoosh shawls of Kashmir are fine examples of the woolen textiles of our country. The Pashmina and Jamawar Shawls are also world famous. In case of Jamawar shawl, the threads of warp and weft are dyed before weaving. The peculiar charm of this famous shawl is derived from the symphony of colour schemes depicting architectural and mythological figures interwoven with landscape design. Shawls from Himachal Pradesh and North East have bright and rich embroidery on them.

Silk Weaving is common in the country, important centers being Mysore , Assam , Banaras, Murshidabad, Surat , and Kanchipuram. There are numerous centers which specialize in silk sari weaving. Some of the sari trade popular are Banarsi brocades, Maheshwari, Pochampalli, Kancheevaram, Patola, Paithani, and Balucha. The famous himroo and Mushroo fabrics of Hyderabad , the Mulberry silk produced in Assam are other rare varieties of silk.

Cotton Weaving in India revolves around 'Khadi'. Khadi is a cloth woven by hand using handspun yarn only. Fine cotton is referred as Muslin. India has been famous for its ultra fine Muslins in the past. There are about 23 different varieties of cotton fabric and about 4 million handloom producing cotton fabric. Handlooms producing Khadi are in such a way that the interlacing of threads provide maximum passage of air to the body, thus creating an effect, making Khadi an ideal summer wear.

Carpet, Rugs and Mats
Carpet weaving traditions exist in different states of India . Kashmir is known for its fine quality carpets. The history of Shawl and Carpet weaving in Kashmir dates back to the period of Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (1341-1385A.D) the famous Sufi Saint of Persia, who came to enlighten kashmir with his spiritual guidance and brought along highly skilled artisans.

The namda (felt rug) made from beaten wool, which is then embroidered over, is an important branch of the kasida industry of Kashmir . The gabba-prepared from old woolens in a variety of forms and designs comes next to namda industry. Baramulla specializes in printed gabbas. Kashmir is known for woolen carpets, hand knotted carpets in both wool and silk.

Fine quality carpets are also produced in Amritsar (Punjab), Agra (Uttar Pradesh), Jaipur (Rajasthan) and Eluru and Warangal (Andhra Pradesh). The Mirzapur- Bhadohi belt in Uttar Pradesh has the largest concentration of carpet weavers.

The technique of dory weaving can be seen in its most primitive form in the villages of Rajasthan, Punjab and

Haryana. Durries come in numerous designs although the most common are stripes of different colours and geometrical designs. Fine durries in brilliant colours made of cotton and silk have become a specialty of salem (Tamil Nadu) while those made of jute fiber are woven in West Bengal .

Other Indian Mats
In Kerala coir floor coverings are a traditional craft. Grass mats are also woven in many parts of India . The Kora grass mats of south India and sitalpali (meaning cool mats) of Assam are well known. Mats are also made of wheat or rice straw, certain types of weeds and of fine bamboo.

Tie and Dye is one of the most widely accepted and one of the very traditional methods of printing textiles in India . There are some known traditional designs as the barhar bag, when opened looks like a garden of flowers- a set of 12 (bahar) beds of flowers. There was also a design called bavan (52) bag, but no one makes it now because it used to make too much time and labor.

Ambalal, a network of branches and leaves interwoven with a variety of birds, represent the branches of a mango tree. Chokidal is a pattern of squares with elephants and other animals. And then there is kambalaya- a design with a dotted pattern in the centre and a different design along the border. The basant bahar represents the flowers of spring, a moral- a peacock pattern, etc.

It is difficult to trace the origin of the craft to any particular area. According to some references it first developed in Jaipur in the form of Leheriya. But it is widely believed that it was brought to Kutch from Sindh by Muslim Khatris who are still the largest community involved in the craft.

Raw Material required for Tie and Dye are muslin, handloom or silk cloth, ordinary thread for tying, starch and colors for dyeing. Traditionally vegetable dyes were used but nowadays chemical dyes are more in use. The colors commonly used are red, saffron, yellow, black and maroon.

The centers of tie and dye in Gujarat are Jamnagar in saurashtra (the water in this area brings out the brightest red while dyeing) and Ahmedabad. The finest tie and dye also called bandhni in Rajasthan comes from Bikaner , Jaipur, Jodhpur , Barmer, Pali, Udaipur and Nathdwara. Rajasthan is well known for its Leheriya Pattern literally meaning waves. Pochampalli is also one of the three main traditional yarn – dyeing centres in the country.

Bandhni material is sold folded and with the knots tied. One has to pull the folds apart for the knots to open. The price depends on the number of dots in the pattern. An intricate design in a sari would have approximately 75000 dots.

The process of Tie and Dye Weaving is known as Ikat . The process consists of dyeing the warp and weft threads in conformity with the proposed design in the fabric. Hand woven and silk yarn is used for weaving. The technique involves great skill and precise calculations by the textile artisans. The design is very colourful, intricate and attractive but the process is both costly and time consuming and the market is limited with the result the families doing this work are fast dwindling.  

Block Printing
Block Printing has become popular because the simple process can create such sensational prints in rich and vibrant colors. The main tools of the printer are wooden in different shape and sizes called bunta. Blocks are made of seasonal teak wood by trained craftsmen. The underside of the block has design etched on it. For a multiple color design generally there is one outline printer who is expert because he is the one who leads the process. The second printer dips his block in color to fill in the color. If there is third color, it follows likewise. Skill is necessary for good printing since the colors need to fit into the design to make it a composite whole. 

Major centres of Block Printing are in Ahmedabad, Sanganer, Bagru, Farukhabad and Pethapur, the main centres in Rajasthan and Gujarat where hand block printing has continued to flourish.

Prints of each area have their own typical characteristics. The sanganer prints are always on a white background, whereas the Bagru prints are essentially in red and black. Farukhabad is famous for its artistry and intricacy of design. Pethapur near Ahmedabad is known for its finest block printing. Banaras block makers design their blocks to suit fine silk printing. Hyderabad is the home of the very popular Leepakshi prints.

Originally natural dyes were used but now many have switched to pigment dyes since mass production of natural dyes is difficult. The process of extracting the dyes- from the indigo plant, saffron, madder root, henna, barks, fruit peels and leaves and flowers of various plants is tedious and requires a lot of sunlight, water and space. But the natural dyes are chemical free so more holistic and healthy whereas synthetic dyes accumulate heat. People in West are realizing the importance of using Natural dyes and prefer natural dye products.

Today even the process of block printing faces threat from modern methods like screen printing where you print four meters in one stroke. Whereas it would take hours, even days to block print the same length.

Using threads, metal, beads, mirrors and colours the folk men and women weave fairy tales on fabrics.

Indian Embroidery from different regions shows different and unique characteristics. The embroidery of Kashmir is called Kasida . Rich in colour and elaborate in detail, the kasida patterns are freely drawn by the naqqash (craftsman) mostly from memory. The finest kasida work, particularly embroidered on shawls or saris, has no 'wrong side'. The chain stitch is also widely used with colourful threads to bring out beautiful effect on fabric.

Phulkari is another style of embroidery and one of the most fascinating expressions of the Punjabi folk art. Punjabi women were known for embroidery with superb imagination. It was a custom for parents and relatives to give hand embroidered clothes to girls in dowry. Phulkari was an important part of the girls trousseau and the cloth used is generally in red or maroon colour and thread is silk in gold, yellow, crimson, red, and green and blue.

In the Phulkari work, the whole cloth is covered with close embroidery and almost no space is left uncovered. The piece of cloth thus embroidered is called bagh meaning a garden. Phulkaris are embroidered with various motifs of birds, animals, flowers and sometimes scenes of village life.

Chikankari is the delicate and traditional embroidery practiced in Lucknow and its environs. Chikan is a unique craft involving delicate and artistic hand embroidery on a variety of textile fabric like muslin, silk, chiffon, organza, doriya and organdi. There are 36 types of stitches used in chikan work. Chikan's light and gossamer like quality makes it very suitable for the hot climate. The light chikan saris and chikan kurtas are perfect summer wear.

The finely embroidered muslin came to be closely identified with the Nawabi culture and became an intrinsic part of it. The Chikankari tradition gradually spread among the common people. The source of most design motifs in Chikankari is Mughal. Though it originated as a court craft, today it is a practiced tradition and an important commercial activity.

Zardosi is an ancient Persian art ( Zar in Persian means gold and Dozi is embroidery) which has been passed down for many generations, dating back before the Mughal Empire, reaching its zenith under the patronage of Emperor Akbar in the 17th century.  Zardozi adorned the costumes of the court, wall hanging, scabbards, regal side walls of tents and the rich trappings of elephants and horses. Intricate patterns traced in gold and silver, studded with seed pearls and precious stones enhanced the shimmering beauty of silk, velvet and brocade.

Zari work was mainly done in Madras and Zardozi in Hyderabad until a few decades ago. Today, Lucknow is home to this finest work of gold and silver embroidery. Zardozi embroidery is hand stitched predominately by Muslim men.  Zardozi has remained as an appliqué method of embroidery. With one hand the craftsman holds a retaining thread below the fabric. In the other he holds a hook or a needle with which he picks up the appliqué materials. Then he passes the needle or hook through the fabric. After days of painstaking labor, the result is an exquisite gold-veined work of art.

This kind of stitching allows the craftsman to use both hands as he works.  The hand above the cloth works the needle, while the hand below the cloth ties each stitch - making Zardozi products not only beautiful but durable .

Kantha from West Bengal - Most kanthas are utilitarian, with the running stitch being used to hold the layers of cloth together. A large number of kanthas, however, show ingenious use of the running stitch for working motifs and border patterns. Some 19th-century kanthas, for example, have vivid scenes drawn from contemporary life or myths and legends, all worked with different forms of the running stitch. Manipulations of the simple running stitch create ripples, expanses of colour, pointillistic designs, and textures that appear woven rather than stitched. The running stitch also has two particular forms, called the chatai or pati (mat) stitch and the kaitya (bending) stitch, which are used either for motifs or for border patterns. Occasionally, by varying the length of the stitches taken, the running stitch can replicate woven sari border patterns.

The empty spaces between the central and corner motifs are filled with motifs drawn from nature and the homestead or with scenes from real life or legends. Apart from floral motifs, recurrent motifs are the curvilinear swastika, kitchen utensils, ornaments, elephants, tigers, horses, peacocks, boats and palanquins. Scenes from Hindu mythology juxtapose secular scenes of dancing, hunting, and boating. The areas left without motifs or scenes are quilted with the rippling kantha stitch.

Banni, a small village in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat is known for its artistic embroidery work. Small mirrors are interspersed to lend glitter and charm. The finest type of such embroidery work with small mirrors is called Abhla- Bharat . When a bride is sent to her husband's house, she carries with her some pieces of skirts and cholis exquisitely embroidered with minute details.

In Assam embroidery is one of the main handicrafts Industry. Images of animals, human figures, creepers, flowers, birds etc. are embroidered on sarees and handloom products.  

Applique is decorative work in which one piece of work is sewn or fixed onto another and includes the activity of decorating a cloth using glass pieces, metals, wood or metal wires. The Art is practiced in Orissa and Rajasthan. The Pipli village in Puri district of Orissa is the main centre of appliqué work. It is stitching of cloth cut outs in the shape of animals, birds, flowers, leaves, celestial bodies and geometrical shapes on the base cloth. The actual grace of the applique work lays in its intricate stitches namely bakhia, turpa, chikan and other very delicate embroidery techniques.

Rajasthan is known for its unique applique or gota, which is created by sewing edges of zari ribbon onto fabric to create elaborate patterns.

Apart from its rich textile and printing traditions, India has many other crafts. Every region is identifiable also with its craft forms and the style and peculiarity of the craft depends on the material available around, the historical background and the cultural ethos of the community producing that craft. We will discuss briefly other crafts like Pottery, Jewellery, Brassware and Bell metal, Metal work, Metal Inlaid woodcraft, Wood work and wood Carving, Stonework, Toys and Dolls.  

Legends reveal that Brahma created man out of clay. Potter creates forms out of clay and hence another name given to a potter in India is 'Prajapati'. Pottery, the oldest art form still is found all over India .

Mansa Pottery of West Bengal represents the snake Goddess and is a quaint, double curved pot with a face painted on it. Similarly, the Dakshinirai pots , found in the Sunderbans area, are round pots with an edging running along the mouth signifying a crown and worshipped as the God who protects people against tigers.

Pottery in Uttar Pradesh The area produces some of the finest and most decorative Chunar , symbolized by its fine black clay pottery. This is inlaid with silver paint in intricate designs. The art perfected in Nizamabad is highly glossy and has luster. Lustre is prepared from the powder called kabiz made from the mud of rice-fields . Khurja in U.P is known for its cheap but tough table ware. A specialty of Koura is a type of pitcher like a pilgrim's bottle. Fixed at high temperatures these pottery items retain their mud colour.  

Rajasthan pottery has certain distinct characteristics. The mouth of water pots are small, probably to prevent spilling when water is being carried, a natural precaution in a place where water is so precious. Altar is noted for its paper-thin pottery, known as kegs pottery.

In Gujarat a mixture of black and white clay is used in pottery making. After they are sun-dried, the clay articles are painted only by using earth-colours. Designs on pots are usually made of dots, Zigzag stripes and diagonals. Kutch and Saurashtra is also known for their beautiful earthenware.

Then the Blue Pottery of Jaipur, we have discussed its origin and how Jaipur became the main centre.

(Here I would like to mention my meeting with Ramdev Prajapati of Blue Art Potteries recently on 12 th Feb. at three days handicrafts Mela organized by Concern India Foundation in Mumbai. Ramdev Prajapati lives in Ghatiyali some 61 kms away from Jaipur. They are about 15 families working together and they call it a "Self Help Group". All the money they earn is deposited in Bank in the name of group and is distributed equally among all the families. He says "Jains, Brahmins, Shekhawats, and Muslims all are into the craft of Blue Pottery". Infact he learned pottery from two gurus- his first guru 'Kamaluddin Ji' was a Muslim and his second guru 'Karpal Singh' a Shekhawat.)

The south has several centres of noted glazed pottery. Vellore has black and red wares. Usilampatti in Madurai has black pottery. Going further south the region is famous for its pottery in Pondicherry .

In India the ornaments are made practically of every part for body. The craft of Jewellery was given a royal patronage right from the ancient times. It is not uncommon to find Banjara women wearing a wide variety of jewellery. Historical records show that Indian jewelers mastered quite early the various skills required to make jewellery – mixing alloys, moulding, drawing fine wires, setting stones, inlay work, relief, drawing golg and silver into thin wire, plating and gilding. In smaller place, the Goldsmith may perform all the processes involved in producing a finished piece. In cities, the different operations are undertaken by separate people- the goldsmith prepares the skeletal framework, the chatera engrave, the kundansaaz or jaria sets the stones while the meenasaaz enamels it.

Different regions of India boast of Jewellery making styles unique to them. Cuttack in Orissa and Karimnagar in Andhra Pradesh have fine filigree work in silver, in Jaipur the art of enameling or meenakari and the temple jewellery from Nagercoil are well-known.

Meenakari and Kundan are the styles influenced by the Mughals and are usually used in the combination to make jewellery and can be worn as both chokers and necklaces. The temple jewellery of Nagercoil consists of traditional gold ornaments studded with red and green semi-precious stones.

In Gujarat precious stone cutting and processing is a traditional handicraft. The silver craft is specialty of Kutch where silver is made more beautiful by the process of embossing and etching.

Hyderabad Pearls are world famous. Pearl trade flourished here under the patronage of Nizam's of Hyderabad . The local craftsmen and jewelers are located close to Charminar. Pearls are priced according to the radiance, shape and size.

In Assam , soft 24 carat gold is fashioned into earrings and necklaces modeled on the local flora and fauna. In Nagaland long funnel beads are used in combination with shells, animal's claws and teeth and precious and semi-precious stones.

Stone Work
Fascination for stone has always been there. Whether it is ornate inlay with onyx black marble or finely latticed soapstone, the appeal of the stone is without any match. In the 3 rd century B.C., the imperial court of Ashoka provided a great boost to the art of stone carving. The stapes and cave temples of this period are perhaps the earliest surviving stone structures.

Both Hindu and Muslim rulers of India patronized this art. The craft in UP reached its heights during the Mughal period when Taj Mahal was created. Taj Mahal one of the wonders of the world, an epitome of beauty and love is the finest example of stone work. Its mosaic work is splendid with its delicateness and fine quality.

The artwork on stone is a combination of carving, inlaying engraving, sculpture and undercut. Infact stonecutters and sculptors work hand in hand. The base material of work is marble, gorara soapstone and occasionally cuddapah. Marble is brought from the quarries of Makarana, Rajasthan.

Before machines were introduced, stonecutters and carvers had only hammer and chisel at their disposal. Still practices in most parts of Varanasi are old fashioned. The stone work of Varanasi is very different from other places. Instead of hard marble, carving is done on a soft stone called gorara and its uniqueness is its unpredictable range of colours. On polishing, mottled gorara brings out a hue of shades varying from gray to pink, green to black.

Metal Ware
Bidriware is shiny silver inlay work against a black background. Designs in pure silver are inlaid in an alloy of Zinc and Copper. Though the original home of Bidri is Bidar in Karnataka, it is perhaps one of the most popular Crafts of Andhra. The technique of bidri came to India from Iran ( Persia ) in the 14th century. It was Sultan Ahmad Shah Wali who introduced this craft to India and he and Nizam of Hyderabad made this craft most popular. Many craftsmen are carrying on the craft in Hyderabad . Bidri-ware has a wide range of variety. The designs are drawn free hand using sharp chisels.  

Brassware and Bell Metal Images made of brassware and bell metal of Bastar tribes in Madhya Pradesh are known for their creativity and fine quality. They make animal, human figures and deities. Assam is also famous for its brass and bell metal crafts. The main products are kalah (water pot), Kahi (dish), Bati (bowl), Lota and Tal (cymbals) etc.

Brass work of Pembart , a small village in Andhra Pradesh is known for statues depicting characters from Hindu mythology, pots, carving etc. in bronze and brass. Brass ware is also made in Warangal .

Metal Work is an ancient art of Kerala . The production of Temple bells and lamps has been in existence from very early times. Kerala is a home of bell-metals. Gleaming bell metal alloyed from a mixture of brass, tin and copper provide the raw substance for making tower-like lamps. Different types of cooking vessels, like the magnificent 'Varpu', tumblers for drinking etc are some of the other bell metal items. Trivandrum, Irinjalakuda and Kasargod  are the main centers of  bell-metal. The religious icons are known for their serenity like the unusual icon of the tandava dance, known as gaja tandava or gajasamhara, where Shiva is crushing the demon in an elephant form.

Metal Inlaid Wood Craft The main centre for the craft is Ernakulam district in Kerala . Rose wood and white wood pieces are cut into required sizes and pasted on a plywood base according to the particular design and polished. The brass metal pieces are fixed in different designs to make the final product. The products include Dancing Lady, Peacock, Candle Stand, Star Wheel, Kathakali Heads, Key Stand and Butterflies etc.

Wood Work and Wood Carving
Different parts of India are known for their own indigenous styles of wood work. Khatam-Band is a specialty in Kashmir woodwork and comprises ceilings of rooms, made from thin panels of pine wood, cut into geometrical designs. Builders of houseboats have kept this old craft alive. In Kashmir the shrine of Khwaja Naqshband, near the Jama Masjid of Srinagar , presents the best example of this craft. The Kashmiri carpentry is notable.  The boats (float-bottomed mostly) that the carpenter makes are of many sizes, and include the famous house-boats, the favourite residence of summer visitors. Woodcarving on Walnut and Chinar, abundant in Kashmir is among the best known Handicrafts of Kashmir. Articles made are like chairs, cabinets, tables, jewellery, boxes, and trays with delicate carvings.

Wood carving is also one of the main industries of the tribes of Madhya Pradesh . Various objects of daily use, hut dwellings etc. are finely carved.

Kerala has one of the richest traditions in wood carving. Temples and palaces are the best preservers of the wood-carving styles of Kerala. Doors, windows and ceilings of most of the ancient houses are testimonial of the high level of craftsmanship and tradition of wood carving. Carvings are made on rosewood, sandalwood, cedar wood and teak. Life-size wood carved figures which are highly stylized with exaggerated features, gestures and postures like the characters of Kathakali dance drama, mythological and religious figures were produced. Now items also include intricately carved Elephants in different postures, other animal figures, paper weights, lamp stands, Jewellery Boxes like Nettoor jewellery boxes in its unique conical shape, with brass edgings at the corners, decorative furniture etc.

Important Handicraft of Nagas is also wood carving. Konyaks are the best wood carvers among the Nagas with their works having exotic motifs showing a dancing couple in an amorous posture. The log- drums or xylophones which are laboriously hollowed out of a trunk of a big tree are excellent specimens of the Nagas Skill in the wood work.

Toys and Dolls The best known with the widest range toys are those from Konda Palli, a small village in the Vijaywada district in Andhra Pradesh. The themes are centered round the villages and the different vocations common to rural life. Equally well-known are the Tirupati dolls of Tiruchanur village near Tirupati, made in the red sandal wood. They largely reproduce the religious figures in the traditional classical style of temple sculptures in small sizes, like dolls. Nirmal, a village in Adilabad district in Andhra Pradesh, is widely famed for its toys. Though at one time Nirmal used to make religious figures, today it concentrates on animals but more on birds, especially in flying formations. Ettikoppaka, a village in Vishakapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh, specializes in lacquered household articles in toy-sizes, including complete sets of cooking vessels, table-ware, furniture, etc. The special items are mirrors in fancy frames.

Toys are also made in Patna ( Bihar ). Patna toys are made in wood and are bright in colours. Toys like puppet like forms of monkeys, parrots and other colourful birds, tops, king and queen, wood-carts, kitchen-set and skipping rope are most common.

There are many other crafts like Tortoise-shell products, Horn Carving Products, Ivory Products, Papier-mache products and Cane and Bamboo work from different parts of India .

Handicrafts are a living art form where even a small button is made with hands, curved and finished with precision. Handicrafts are India 's Heritage and there is a great deal to learn from our heritage. They are not only example of finest skill, our history and traditions- they have been a connecting thread between different communities. They teach us reverence for hard work, working with hands and love for nature. With their simple living and using every material around them in a very constructive and creative manner, they don't take ecosystem for granted.

There is a saying: "We have not inherited this Earth from our ancestors but have borrowed it from our children." Here comes the need to ponder over environmental protection. The law of nature says waste of one species is food for another. The net result is that there is no accumulation of waste. On the contrary, one of the inbuilt characteristics of present day human society is generation of enormous quantities of waste. Increase in populations and increase in wants have resulted in increasing waste and declining resources, making the situation difficult to sustain.

To reuse and recycle in order to save resources has been inherent in Indian tradition. There is a story about reuse of materials given in Lord Buddha's teaching:

Shyamavati, the queen of king Udayana, offered five hundred garments to Ananda (the favourite disciple of Buddha) who received these with great satisfaction.

The king, hearing of it, suspected Ananda of dishonesty, so he went to Ananda and asked what he was going to do with five hundred garments. Ananda replied: Oh king, many of my brothers are in rags, I am going to distribute the rags among the brothers.

What will you do with the old garments?
We will make bed-covers out of them.
What will you do with the old bed covers?
We will make pillowcases
What will you do with the old pillowcases?
We will make floor covers of them.
What will you do with the old floor covers?
We will use them for foot towels.
What will you do with the old foot towels?
We will use them for floor mops.
What will you do with the old floor mops?

You're Highness; we will tear them into pieces, mix them with mud and use the mud to plaster the house walls. There cannot be a better example of reuse of materials. It is the concept that has been ingrained in our history, culture, religion and philosophy. Where even Cow dung is used to plaster the walls and make upalas (cooking Cole), where vegetables and flowers were used to make colours- we need to question ourselves why the society is adapting so blindly and rapidly consumerism and western lifestyles and giving up our own holistic approach.

Handicrafts represent our culture that is rich, diverse and believes in valuing things done with hands and bringing people from all communities, castes and religions together. They are our composite heritage and we must feel pride in them and make all efforts to preserve them.


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