The heritage arts and crafts of any nation are a perfect reflection of its culture. When it comes to India, these spell diversity and vibrancy. Every corner of the country has its own special craftsmanship. Some of these heritage arts are home grown while others have been a result of the various foreign infusions that the nation has seen. Irrespective of their origin, these arts have been practiced over generations and are the icons of the rich Indian heritage.
Here are 10 of these traditional arts and crafts from various corners of India to showcase its potpourri of cultures.
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Blue Pottery of Rajasthan
It is almost impossible to leave Rajasthan, especially Jaipur, without having sighted the pretty blue crockery. The 17th century Blue Pottery is a tradition influenced by the Mongols of Central Asia. Encouraged by the Jaipur Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II, this clay art soon became an integral part of the local livelihood.
What makes Blue Pottery an unusual art is the fact that it is not made of regular Potter’s clay. Instead a dough of Multani Mitti (Fuller’s earth) and a local gum – Katria Gond, is set in a pre-prepared POP mould.
No two pieces of Blue Pottery are alike and that is by design. After all, this art is still practiced by hand.
Thanjavur Dolls of Tamil Nadu
What put Thanjavur on the list of Government of India’s Geographical Indications Registry was the bobbly-head dancing dolls. Thanjavur Thalaiyatti Bommai or the Tanjore dancing dolls have been around since the 19th century. The home grown craft was inspired by the royal couple and since then the dolls are generally sold as a pair of King and Queen.
These dolls are handcrafted using a mixture of Cauvery silt and root.
Bamboo Craft of North East
The versatile Bamboo Craft of North East extends from its sturdy bridges to pretty roofs, delicate sculptures to pretty hats and functional articles like dust-bins. The locals of the area use the malleable wood for practically any daily requirement. They skilfully split Bamboo wood or knit and weave it into patterns. Almost every state in this region has a unique Bamboo signature.
Sankheda Furniture of Gujarat
The ornamental teak wood first dazzled a French and British duo in the 19th century. Soon, the beautiful maroon and gold Sankheda woodwork started getting exported to various corners of the world. Produced by a small community of Gujarat – the Karadi Suthar, the origin of the Sankheda furniture is attributed to a legendary holy man, who blessed the local carpenter with new skills – that goes beyond the regular cutting and chiselling of the wood.
The delicate hand-drawn designs of Sankheda furniture involves the use of a mix of tinfoil and glue.
Sankheda furniture has always been considered auspicious and has found its way into weddings and festivals.
Pashmina Shawls of Ladakh and Kashmir
Wool so light and soft that the entire shawl can pass through a single finger ring! Such is the finesse of the Pashmina Shawls of Ladakh and Kashmir. These shawls have been a symbol of royalty and rich since times unknown.
The naturally-shed hair of the Changthangi Goats is woven to create the traditional patterns that have been favoured by people worldwide. The Pashmina shawls are known to survive generations and hence, it is not unusual to find the 17th century ones hanging in the various museums across the world.
Channapatna Toys of Karnataka
Enter the Gombegala Ooru of Karnataka (toy town of Karnataka) and you will encounter heaps of colourful wooden toys. The wide variety of Channapatna toys- from rocking horses to board games, have been created since the days of Tipu Sultan who called in artists from Persia to train the locals.
Originally, the wooden toys were chiselled and shaved from Aale Mara (Ivory Wood) but with time, came in the use of teak wood, sandalwood and rosewood. What has remained the same is that these are painted and polished with vegetable dyes – making them absolutely safe for kids.
Dhokra Art from Chattisgarh
Ever heard of the “doll of Mohenjo daro”? That is the earliest known Dhokra Art piece. The heritage craft is practiced by the Dhokra Damar tribes, now settled in Chattisgarh, West Bengal and Odisha.
The non-ferrous art involves the coatings of wax, clay and molten metal to bring out a delicate piece of metal Dhokra Art. The traditional art has found its way around the globe for its pleasing expressions, artistic poses and a slice of life representation.
Pattachitra of Odisha
This ancient art of using cotton cloth as a canvas can be traced back to the 5th century. The Pattachitras are largely paintings based on the theme of Lord Jagannath and the Vaishnava Sect. Today, the traditional chitrakars are concentrated around Raghurajpur in Odisha.
The community art practice involves an entire household – the younger members and the women preparing the canvas for the painting and the main artist starting the initial drawing and finally, finishing the piece.
Pattachitras are not just restricted to cotton canvas. Palm leaves and silk too form the base for these elaborate masterpieces that take months to complete.
Bidriware in Karnataka and Telangana
The black and silver wine decanters in the Telangana museums are bound to transport you back to the tales of Sindbad and Aladdin – except that these were possibly made in India – in Bidar of Karnataka. The Persian art made itself at home during the reign of the Bahamani Sultans in the 14th century.
The delicate floral patterns embedded onto the wine decanters is created using an 8 -step process involving moulding, chiselling, smoothening, engraving, inlay work and oxidation. It is normally made from an alloy of zinc and copper and finally blackened using a special ingredient – Bidar Soil.
Chikankari of Uttar Pradesh
Chikankari – the embroidered art of Lucknow has been noticed by the world since the 3rd Century BC as found in the texts of a Greek -Megasthenese. It is this art that has put Lucknow on the Government of India’s Geographical Indications Register.
The trendy Chikankari work is a variety of fabrics. The process involves embroidery over a block print that is erased after the stitching is done. A variety of stitches are used in the Chikankari work and keeping pace with the new trends, one will find interesting embellishments on the embroidered piece – such as beadwork, zari and sequins.