The history of Indian handicrafts goes back to almost 5000 years from now. There are numerous examples of handicrafts from the Indus Valley Civilization. The tradition of crafts in India has grown around religious values, needs of the common people and also the needs of the ruling elites.
In addition to this foreign and domestic trade have also played an important role in the evolution of different craft forms in India. The craft traditions of India have withstood the depredation of time and several foreign invasions and continue to flourish till date. It is mainly due to the open mindedness of the Indian handicraftsmen to accept and assimilate new ideas.
Clay and Terracotta
This is amongst the oldest and most widespread form of handicrafts. Historical records of prehistoric era have been found in the remains of pottery. It is believed to have existed since 7000 BC in the Neolithic period. Apart from the popular terracotta or fired clay products, other products are the stoneware which are fired at over 1150 degree.
The translucent form, also known as porcelain is also very popular. The raw material for this craft is ordinary clay, derived from the beds of water bodies like river, lakes and ponds. The clay is cleaned, mixed and ten shaped either by hand, wheel or molded into desired object. The items are dried, fired and glazed as per the requirements. The clay or terracotta products are graded according to their color, strength and water absorption capacity.
Manipuri pottery is unique in style and technique. Unlike in other parts of India, the craft is practised both by men and women. The potters of this area do not use a wheel. The Persian Art of blue pottery came to Jaipur from Persia and Afghanistan via Mughal Courts.Blue Pottery is made from quartz and not clay. Materials that are used include quartz, raw glaze, sodium. Terracotta of Kutch is famous for its lovely craft workmanship. Artists here dry the clay in the bright sunlight and later these articles are painted and baked. Thanagarh is famous for ceramic items.
Delhi artists who have migrated from different parts of the states produce traditional terracotta craft in the most traditional way. A variety of earthen objects such as cut-work lamps, money banks are made here. Among the clay products of Uttar Pradesh, pottery of Gorakpur is very famous. The potters of this region make animal figures like horses and elephants with hand-applied ornamentation.
Lean type of porous clay sourced from the beds of tanks is used for jewelry. The clay is then dried in the sun, crushed and finally put in tubs of water. Once stirred well, it is filtered through.
The finest patterns of terracotta panels can be found in Bengal towns of Murshidabad, Birbhaum, Jessore, Hooghly and Digha. The theme is generally folk and the patterns are fairly highlighted.
Haryana produces a large variety of terracotta products such as lamps, pitchers, flower vases, pots, musical instruments, clay toys, goblets, human and animal figures, plaques and medallions. Goan artists design attractive earthen ware, with its deep, rich, red surface. Water flower pots are the main items and are the hot selling item. Panels are also made here in a unique artistry way.
The art of metal work is known to Indians for almost 5000 years from now. The beautiful image of the dancing girl from Mohanjodaro bears testimony of this fact. This indicates the high level of workmanship attained by ancient craftsmen. Traditionally, Indian craftsmen have been using different metals like iron, copper, silver and alloys like bronze, bell metal, white metal etc to produce items such as pots, pans, utensils, photo frames, sculptures of deities, mythological figures and animals.
The iron pillar at Mehrauli (Delhi), belonging to the Mauryan is a fine example of Indian craftsmen’s excellence. During the Chola period also the art of metalworking reached great heights. The Chola craftsmen were past masters at making bronze sculptures. Sculptures are usually made with the lost wax technique. In this process a wax model of the sculpture or any item is created. This model is then covered with clay and holes are made into the clay. Finally molten metal is poured through the hole at the top, causing the wax to melt. The cavity created within is automatically replaced by the hot metal. The metal is allowed to cool and the final product is freed from clay and polished.
In the field of metal work a variety of styles are seen in different parts of India. In the Ladakh area of Kashmir traditional vessels are made out of iron and brass. Many richly engraved traditional household items like bowls, samovars, plates and trays are also made in Kashmir. In “Naqasi”, elaborate floral and calligraphic designs are imprinted on copper and silver items. These items are then oxidized, which makes the design to stand out from the background.
Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh is renowned for its brass items. A wide range of household items like pots, trays, bowls and ornamental pieces are made here and are decorated with intricate etching. Benaras is well known for cast sculptures of deities and household utensils.
Rajasthan too is known for its rich tradition of metal work. Here, Jaipur is the main center for brass engraving and lacquering. The main items that are produced here are photo frames, bowls, plates, boxes etc. Jaipur is also known for its bronze sculptures. At Alwar the art of Koftagari or damascening work is practiced. In many other states also the art of metal work flourishes. They are Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Tamil Nadu.
The art of inlaying marble arrived in India from Europe four hundred years ago. The Mughal Emperors of North India had been gifted some pieces of Pietra Dura by visitors from Europe. They were fascinated by the beauty of this art form and immediately set upon adapting it to their tastes.
These rulers of India were masters of incredible wealth and resources – they invited some of Europe’s premier marble artists to India to train the very best craftsmen that the kingdom had to offer. The success of their venture was further assisted by the fact that there was an abundant supply of arguably the world’s finest marble (Makrana) near the Mughal capital of Agra. This combination of factors resulted in the creation of some of the world’s finest marble architecture and art over a remarkably short period. The greatest example of this is the Taj Mahal; one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Marble tables offer a unique combination of being a functional piece of furniture as well as a masterpiece of craftsmanship. We offer these tabletops by themselves or with bases. Bases for smaller tables include hand hammered iron bases (by local Central Texas Ironworkers) & cast iron pedestal bases, both of which have been attached to the marble table top with the help of hand shaped mahogany plates. There are also fabricated and coated metal bases for midsize and large table tops.
Midnapur was an important center for stoneware and there existed several different artists in this region. There is phyllite stone available here, used to make different materials.
This period marked an imaginative and impressive step forward in Indian stone sculpture; much previous sculpture was probably in wood and has not survived. The elaborately carved animal capitals surviving on from some Pillars of Ashoka are the best known works, and among the finest, above all the Lion Capital of Ashoka from Sarnath that is now the National Emblem of India. Coomaraswamy distinguishes between court art and a more popular art during the Mauryan period. Court art is represented by the pillars and their capitals. Popular art is represented by the works of the local sculptors like chauri (whisk)-bearer from Didarganj.
Wood carving is found all over India. While sheesham is the most widely used type of wood, mango, teak, rosewood, ebony, sandalwood, walnut and deodar are also used. Intricately carved wooden pillars and doorways can be found in temples and palaces across the country. With royal patronage being replaced by market dynamics, wood carving is now mostly found in functional articles like furniture, bowls, boxes, lamp stands, etc.
Artistic woodwork began as a temple and palace craft, and flourished alongside architecture and sculpture. Depending on local availability, different woods were used for wood carving, and fashioned into religious, decorative and functional articles. Over time, various centres of wood carving emerged, each with its distinct style.
Today, Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh is the principle center for wood carving. Here, the origins of the craft can be traced back to the late 19th century. Closely associated with architecture, wood carving incorporated the design vocabulary of architectural carvings. It was also influenced by Kashmiri designs, with many of the craftpersons having descended from Kashmiri immigrants. These influences continue to reflect in contemporary products like the finely chiseled screens and jaali work and the anguri or vine leaf pattern found in many Saharanpur products.
With its development into a major hub for woodwork, wood carvers from other centres have also migrated here. As a result, Saharanpur can boast of a wide and highly skilled repertoire of techniques and products, catering to both the domestic and export markets.
Wood carving is done entirely by hand. In Saharanpur, sheesham is generally the wood of choice, though teak, rosewood, walnut and mango are also used. Designs are first made on paper, and transferred onto the wood using ink. These are then carved using a variety of chisels. The article is finished by buffing in order to bring out the shine of the wood. This is usually done with the help of a lathe mechanism.
Wood carving clusters are scattered across the country. The main locations, along with their typical products are:
- Andhra Pradhesh: Bhongir and Madhavmala – carved chairs, mirror frames, idols; Udayagiri – wooden cutlery
- Assam: carved sinhasanas(thrones) for prayer houses
- Gujarat: Pethapur – printing blocks; Surat – engraved and inlayed sandalwood and teak boxes; Bhavnagar, Rajkot, Mahuva – chests
- Himachal Pradesh: Kangra – carved doors, windows, panels
- Jammu & Kashmir: carved walnut wood utility and decorative items – bowls, trays, jewellery boxes, screens, tables, cupboards
- Karnataka: Kumta – carved figures; Mysore – carved rosewood animals, especially elephants
- Kerala: Trivandrum, Trichur, Ernakulam, Cochin – ebony, rosewood and sandalwood figures
- Madhya Pradesh: Indore, Alirajpur, Bhopal, Ujjain, Ratlam – carved wall panels, boxes and furniture
- Maharashtra: Miraj – musical instruments
- Orissa: Puri – wooden masks and raths (chariots); Baragarh – toys
- Punjab: Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Amritsar, Bhera – furniture; low relief carving, with geometrical, animal, floral motifs
- Rajasthan: Bassi – carved figures, wooden shrines; Pipar, Bhari Sajanpur – bowls
- Tripura: carved plaques, tribal and animal figures
- Uttar Pradesh: Sahranpur – screens, folding tables, trays, bowls, boxes; Pilkhuwa, Farukkabad – printing blocks
Mysore Painting is a form of classical South Indian painting, which evolved in the Mysore city of Karnataka. During that time, Mysore was under the reign of the Wodeyars and it was under their patronage that this school of painting reached its zenith.
Quite similar to the Tanjore Paintings, Mysore Paintings of India make use of thinner gold leaves and require much more hard work. The most popular themes of these paintings include Hindu Gods and Goddesses and scenes from Hindu mythology. The grace, beauty and intricacy of Indian Mysore Paintings leave the onlookers mesmerized.