Indian Handicrafts and their link with the culture

Introduction: India, a land of diversity and the only country in the world to have active vibrant roots to its culture and traditional craft forms. India’s rich cultural heritage and centuries of evolutionary tradition is embodied by the extensive array of handicrafts made all over the country.

Handicrafts: As the term clearly indicates, the products born out of creative minds and artistic hands without the help of modern machinery and tools are rightly called as handicrafts. They are the mirror of the cultural identity of the ethnic group of artisans who make it. Handicrafts are the special identity of Indian craft industry. The popular handcrafted items such as the Kashmiri pashmina shawls, silk embroided fabrics, terracotta items etc were the top favourites of the royal clans in the Europe, Middle East, Africa and West African countries since the ages. These special favourites from India were exported to these countries through a famous sea route called the “Silk route”. The traditional art and craft forms have survived through ages and now are a very popular luxury possession of the millennials.

Every State in India is unique and has its own language, tradition, culture, music, dance, art and craft form. Hence, Every Indian state has an equisitive Traditional art and craft form. In general, Traditional art and craft forms can be categorized in to three main units: Commercial crafts, Folk crafts and Religious crafts.

Folk crafts: Folk art and craft forms are transferred from one generation to another; every art form is distinct and diverse. They are untouched by modernisation. They are created by the village women for their personal use mainly. There are craftsmen who are specialized in creating textiles, jewellery which meet the criteria set up by a particular group of people, usually a particular caste or community. They are painted with naturally available materials such as charcoal, leaf extracts, flower extracts, various types of soil, Gold dust, copper dust, semiprecious stones, pearls etc on clothes, canvas boards, earthen pots etc. examples of fork art forms are as follows: Madhubani/Mithila art (Bihar), Miniature paintings (Rajasthan), Phad (Rajasthan), Warli ( Western ghats), Gond ( Madhya Pradesh),
Kalamkari (Andhra Pradesh), Tanjore art (Tamilnadu), Cheriyal scrolls (Telangana), Kalighat paintings (West Bengal), Patachitra (Odisha, West Bengal).

Madhubani painting: Originated in the kingdom of Janak (Sita’s father in Ramayana). It is the special art form originated in Mithila (at present in Bihar). It is one of the most popular art forms practiced by women who are religiously inclined to God. The art comprises of geometric figures, flora, fauna and God. This art form was revealed to the world by the British in 1930 after an earth quake. The brokenpieces 1walls of the houses had the Madhubani paintings. It mirrored the work of Picasso- satted by William .G.Archer.

Miniature Painting: This miniature art form originated in 16 th century, flourished during the reign of Shahjahan and Akbar in India. Later it was practised by Rajputs of Rajasthan. These paintings depict religious symbols and epics.

Phad: Originated and practised in Rajasthan. It is an art form in a scroll depicting the folk deity Devnarayan. A 15- 30 feet long canvas cloth is painted using vegetable and fruit dyes.

Warli: Originated in Western Ghats and was practised by the Warli tribes in 2500 BC, this is one of the oldest art forms of India. It mainly comprises of circles, triangles and lines depicting the daily life activities like fishing, hunting, festival, dance etc. The paintings have a dark background and painted with a white dye.

Religious Crafts: They are developed under religious epics and themes. These craft forms are connected with religious institutions and relevant ceremonies. Various religious sites in India are specialized in particular craft items, such as Varanasi and Kanchipuram in Tamilnadu specialize in
weaving clothes for religious ceremonies, particularly silk materials. And also Puri in Odisha, is a well known pilgrim center, is connected with crafts like patacharita, a painting on cloth and wood and stone carvings. Dravidian style of stone carvings on the Hindu temples is representing the skills of the artists in Tamilnadu. The Meenakshi temple of Madurai is a classical example of the skills of carving and devotion together. The rosewood and sandalwood carvings of Gods and Goddesses are famous in
Karnataka. Peasant women population in Odisha decorate their mud huts with images of foliage made with white rice paste. The foliage is a symbol of the Goddess of protection; they are invoked to keep evil spirits from entering the house. Odisha girls often spend hours mastering painting techniques because their skill is often a criteria evaluated by the families of prospective husbands.

Commercial crafts: A specialized group of craftsmen who are very well skilled in a particular art and craft form make commercial crafts. They have various small categories such as Weavers, Dyers, Printers, Goldsmiths and carpenters etc. Popular commercial art and craft products of India are as follows.

Pashmina shawls: Pashmina is a special type of wool which is specially hand woven in Kashmir. A very popular handicraft product of India.

Wooden carvings/ dolls: Chattisgargh artisans are well known for the wooden masks, door and window carvings. The wooden crafts in Goa are also very unique with an aesthetic blend of Portuguese and Indian culture depicting flora and fauna and also human figurines. Red wood from
Andhrapradesh is used in making wooden cutlery, dainty boxes, paper knives etc. Rosewood carved decorative items is very popular in Madurai.

Pottery: One of the most sensual forms of craft. The craft of pottery is prevalent in India since the time of Harappan civilization. Bikaner in Rajasthan is famous for its painted pottery, pokhran for its geometrical patterns and Alwar for its kagzi pottery, blue pottery of Jaipur, and Terracotta jewellery from South India etc. Earthen cookware and cutlery is very popular in Tamilnadu and kerala. The potter occupies a unique position in the craft traditions of India.

Leather: Leather clothes, footwear, caps, bags, saddles, shields are very popular Madhya Pradesh. Special leather crafted kolhapuri shoes are a popular handicraft item from Maharashtra.

Jute: Indian Jute handicrafts are a worldwide hit. The wide variety of Jute handbags, office stationeries, jewellery, and footwear, wall hangings from Bihar, Bengal and Assam are of huge demand in today’s market.
Shell crafts, Brass handicrafts, Bamboo handicrafts, Phulkari, Zardosi, silk craft, Bandhni tie and dye, carpet weaving etc are other examples of the commercial craft froms from India.

Conclusion: General Craft forms and their examples described precisely above is just one third presentation of the available art and craft forms in India. Crafts are an integral part in the life of an Indian, despite the rapid social and technological changes that are taking place. In the Western countries artists are rich and they create craft items that are considered to be luxury items. But in India, it is a major source of employment for a majority of rural population next to agriculture. Rural artisans create crafts which depicts the culture of the community or geographical location they belong to. In simple words Handicrafts can be rightly defined as the products made by hand which carry a part of the creator. Culture and tradition are inevitable parts of the creator and hence culture and crafts
are always intertwined. India’s rich traditional and cultural heritage is manifested by the wide array of handicrafts produced all over the country. There is absolutely no doubt that these crafts carry the great appeal of the Indian culture that consists of exclusivity, beauty, dignity and style. It is high time for us to conserve these inevitable great art forms.

For the artisan, craft is an end in itself. For you, the artist, craft is the vehicle for expressing your vision. Craft is the visible edge of art.     
David Bayles


  4. Barnard, Nicholas (1993). Arts and Crafts of India. London: Conran Octopus Limited.

This article is published by Chellaa Rajesh and she is reachable at Linkedin.

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