The A to Z of Indian handicrafts
If you have followed the journey of #sharethecraft on Amazon, you would know how each region of the country has inherited skills that define our culture and give language to our artistic heritage. As we celebrate this amazing campaign and the spirit of sharing our arts and crafts, take a look at this quirky alphabet list that we’ve put together for a better appreciation of our rich cultural heritage.
A for Ajrakh: Considered to be the epitome of block printing, today it is only practiced at Khavda in Kutch, Barmer in Rajasthan, and at Sindh in Pakistan, with glimpses of Persian influence. The motifs are traditional and geometric in earthy tones of reds, browns and indigo.
B for Blue Pottery: Hunt for blue floral motifs in the Pink City. Intrigued? From its initial use in monuments and fountains, the blue pottery tradition today finds space among the major crafts of Jaipur.
C for Chanderi: Named after its founding city, Chanderi, the wispy weave was authentically woven by 300 count cotton-on-cotton with traditional motifs inspired by nature. The round “ashrafi” motif is heavily used, and also found in monuments across the little town.
D for Dabu: While the floral bootis and jaals came to Sanganer, the earthy, mud resist technique stayed back with the Dabu print in Bagru, Jaipur. Interestingly, this is not a printing, but a resistance technique.
E for Embroidery: This represents all the intricate embroideries of India, right from Phulkari, Zardozi and Chikan to Kantha and Chamba Rumaal. Indian thread work is a delicate art that can be compared to a poetic couplet or to a stretch of a flowing river that can add magic to the entire piece of work.
F for Filigree: A painstakingly intricate inlay work of wire on wood, the TaarKaashi is like a piece of painting. The art has been practiced over centuries for decorating the interiors of the walled city of Jaipur.
G for Grass work Sabai: From the baskets woven in little hamlets of Uttarakhand and the Sikki/ Sabai work of Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand to the Koodur craft of Kashmir and the Ramacham grass work of Kerala, this humble fibre has been used for centuries by our artisans. Dried grass woven together creates utility products that are completely organic and sustainable. Check out Himadri Emporium for their excellent collection
H for Horses from Chettinad: When in the Karaikkudi district of Tamil Nadu, you cannot miss the life-sized installations of these terracotta horses with a 500-year-old history behind them. They are considered to be guardians of local villages.
I for Ittars of Kannauj: The history of Indian perfumes go back centuries. To this day, traditional ittars are made from the ancient steam distillation process in the small town of Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh. Natural floral fragrances like mogra (Arabian jasmine), champa (plumeria) and gulab (rose) are preferred globally.
J for Jhabua dolls: How exciting that the indigenous women of Jhabua village in Madhya Pradesh still follow their age-old ritual of gifting these handmade dolls to young brides. Adorned with colourful clothes and bangles, these puppets depict the everyday lives of the village women, such as women tilling farms, women sitting on a cart or collecting fruit, etc.
K for Kala cotton: Grown in Kutch, this organic cotton is slowly gaining a foothold among conscious buyers. Today, this slow desi cotton is becoming more relevant than ever over commercial varieties like BT cotton, which are high on yields, high on pesticides and high on water requirements.
L for Lac work: Jaipur’s ‘Manihar’ community create and sell these stone-embedded lac bangles from their small shops lining the narrow lanes of the walled city . They still carry immense traditional and cultural value, and continue to be used as festive and bridal gifts.
M for Madhubani: Madhubani can safely be called India’s best gift to the global art scene. The Mithila art from Madhubani charmingly depicts love and fertility. It dates back to the ancient Treta Yug when it was first seen on the walls of local homes. Today, these Mithila paintings can be seen on designer crockeries and even on airplanes!
N for Namda: The Namda art was born in Kashmir. The origin of this felt-embroidered carpet from the valley dates back to the third century AD.
O for Otim kaam: This art is from Goa, a traditional metalwork of the Kansar community who create brass artefacts and oil lamps. Local artists are increasingly finding it difficult to sustain themselves with their traditional skill because of dwindling demand.
P for Pattu weaving: Pattu or Patti (meaning strips) weaving takes its inspiration from local fauna, architecture and natural colours. Primarily woven from sheep’s wool in the interiors of Western Rajasthan, these weaves are proudly worn by the region’s cattle herders.
Q for Quitabat calligraphy: This writing style found its peak during the Mughal era. From writing Quranic verses on precious stones to inscribing manuscripts on paper, this enticing calligraphic art follows many procedures. Today, there are just a few Katibs in the narrow by-lanes of Old Delhi and Lucknow who practice this art in their entirety.
R for Rabari embroidery: In the hamlets of dry and barren Kutch live the nomadic Rabari community who create exquisite pieces of embroidery. Initially used as part of bridal trousseaus and wedding gifts, today this embroidery technique has become the touchstone of this region’s textile heritage.
S for Sheetalpati: In Cooch Behar, West Bengal, only 14,000 families today are left with this traditional skill. This is the art of weaving “Madurs”, traditional cane mats woven from soaked cane strips with complicated yet striking designs inspired by nature. Known to create “cool” beds in Eastern India’s hot and humid summers, hence the name, “sheetal”, meaning “cool”.
T for Tanjore art: This is the age old art of using gold foil and precious stones on paintings depicting the venerated deities patronised by the rich kingdoms of South India. Today, Thanjavur or Tanjore art is part of Thanjavur’s UNESCO World Heritage status.
U for Ustaa kaam: Inspired by Persian Gesso work, this adapted royal art travelled from Delhi to Bikaner in Rajasthan. The dry desert city needed colours and Usta was used on camel saddles, swords, ceilings and articles. Today the art is facing challenges from low demand and high cost of production.
V for Votives of Molela: Inspired by a local folklore, the terracotta figurines of Molela clay stand out from the rest because of their unique hollowing technique. Just about 40 families practice the craft today. The art’s traditional subjects include old poems, stories and idols depicted on plaques.
W for Warli art: Indian murals existed as far back as 3000 BC, as seen in the prehistoric cave paintings of Bhimbetka in Chhattisgarh. The depiction of the daily life, farming, weddings and local rituals of the local Warli community were celebrated as wall art in the 1970s when it became popular. The Warli art today occupies a place in just about any utility item we see, and rightfully so.
X for the X factor of Kanjeevaram: Originally from Kanchipuram, this knitting style is created from pure mulberry silk. A unique weave that uses two looms—one for the body and another for the pallu—which is later joined together seamlessly. Kanjeevaram is aptly called the queen of silks, adding an oomp and timeless glamour to any occasion.
Y for Yak wool: Imagine living in sub-zero conditions (-40 C) on one of highest plateaus of the planet, where air and water are both scarce. The nomadic Changpa community move around this inhospitable region with their livestock. They are also the same community who rear the rare Pashmina goat. The community use the coat hair from their domestic yaks to weave clothes and linen for themselves, which continue to carry immense high cultural value. Apart from blankets and sweaters, they also use this yak wool to create Rebo, their tents.
Z for Zardozi: The colourfully chaotic gullies of Old Delhi are also home to the traditional Zardozi (zari) work. The art is currently also practiced in Allahabad and other parts of Uttar Pradesh. The craft uses pure gold and silver wire on silk, satin and velvet for an exquisite handmade heritage that is still alive and well.
With this, we come to the close of our lovingly created campaign on India’s legacy handicrafts and heritage craftsmanship. Now that you’ve heard the stories of our traditional artisans from the length and breadth of India, why not share them and make them your own this festive season?