Sample Itinerary: Arts & Crafts Tour...
The traditions of Indian arts and crafts are some of the oldest and diverse in the world. They represent a unique and continuous ethos and aesthetic sensibility right through thousands of years – that has seen a remarkable ability to assimilate, remake, re-shape the incoming styles, ideas, artists and techniques and yet retain the core essence.
Indian crafts are a riot of colour, textures and motifs, materials and mediums that changes with each region, village and community having its own distinct style and history. The history, weather, geography and economic condition also have a great effect on the types of art and crafts found. Normally the techniques and skills are passed down families, fathers to sons, mothers to daughters or within communities or schools. Traditionally there have always been guilds - at times one’s caste decided the crafts and arts one could practise.
The earliest specimens of Indian arts and crafts go back 4500 years to Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Culture. The best examples of Harappan Culture include jewellery, seals, pottery, toys, games, terracotta, shell and bead making and bronze figures.
The finer crafts of India had flourished over the centuries thanks to royal patronage and trade demand. So jewellery, embroidery, silk, brocades, ivory and bone carving, carpets and silver ware were in demand in the country and else ware. However, colonial times and post independence saw a decline in demand, so a lot of craftsman’s had to change professions, as there was no longer a great demand or enough royal or other patronage.
In Northern India, Kashmir is the centre of carpet weaving; the technique for which was imported into the region from Persia prior to the Mughal era. No wonder, the carpets, even today, have markedly Persian motifs. However, there is whole lot more to Kashmir besides the carpets. Kashmir is also famous for the art of embroidery and the region is known worldwide for Pashmina shawls. The artisans of the state are known for their elaborately decorated papier-mache bowls, boxes and trays and for fine carving in walnut wood.
There are many Tibetan refugees in the state of Himachal Pradesh, who have brought with them their craft of making superbly colourful Tibetan rugs. The Tibetan jewelry is also very beautiful which is found all over North India as well as North-Eastern states. Fine shawls, scarves of pashmina, pahari miniature paintings are very popular crafts in the Kullu valley.
In the state of Uttar Pradesh, while Varanasi produces world famous silks and brocades, Lucknow is famous for delicate embroidery work 'chikankari' done on light fabrics like cotton and organdie. As befits the home of the Taj Mahal, Agra is famed for its marble-inlay, often incorporating precious stones. Other major handicrafts in Agra besides inlay work are: leatherwear, brassware, carpets, jewelery and embroidery. Uttar Pradesh is also known for the carpet making centres of Bhadohi and Mirzapur. The carpets produced here are regarded as one of India's best. They display a strong Mughal influence in terms of design, technique and style. They are either made of pure wool or mixed with silk.
In the heartland of India lies Madhya Pradesh. In this land of wonderful and contrasting variety, handicrafts lend a touch of mystique - a charm unique to Madhya Pradesh. They radiate an aura, exhibit hereditary skills, whisper painstaking craftsmanship and evoke an urgent desire to learn more about the land and its colourful people.
A deftly woven silk or a cotton blended saree, block-printed fabrics, stuffed leather toys or floor coverings, folk paintings, bamboo, cane or jute work, woodcraft, stone-craft, iron-craft, metal-craft, terra-cotta, papier mache, zari work (gold thread embroidery), ornaments, dolls...each hand-crafted product of Madhya Pradesh is charming enough to sweep you off your feet.
South India has a lot to offer by way of arts and crafts. From silk to finely carved sandalwood and rosewood figures to brassware and semi-precious stones are various crafts of South India.
Karnataka state is noted for its fine silks and handicrafts. You can buy shimmering silk saris and fabrics. A range of finely carved sandalwood and rosewood figures and articles, wooden inlay, toys, brassware, gold and silver jewelry are other well known handicrafts of the region.
From various towns and cities of Tamil Nadu you can buy splendid handloom silk and cotton fabrics, especially the silk sarees from Kanchipuram in vibrant colours. A range of finely crafted bronzes, brass lamps, wood and stone carvings and Thanjavur paintings and brass plates in copper and silver are other options in Tamil Nadu. In Ooty, chunky silver jewelry and hand embroidered fabrics are major attractions.
With a rich heritage of arts and crafts, Kerala offers several interesting mementoes. Kerala specialises in bell metal, wood, cane, fibre and coconut-shell craft. Popular souvenirs from Kerala include Kathakali models in wood, miniature snake-boats, restrained rosewood carvings, as well as the sea-shell confections.
Also in Kerala, and to a lesser extent in Tamil Nadu, you will find beautiful and incredibly vibrant miniature paintings on leaf skeletons, enclosed on a printed card, depicting rural and domestic scenes as well as gods and goddesses.
Andhra Pradesh has a rich tradition in handicrafts, with craftsmanship handed down from generation to generation. Bidri, the most famous handicraft of this state, is a metal craft that derives its name from Bidar, the hometown of this exquisite craft. Decorative, beautifully painted wooden articles like furniture, bowls, lamps, ash trays, boxes are typical items.
Andhra Pradesh is also known for Kalamkari hand painting with vegetable dyes. Only four basic colours are used to depict scenes from mythology. Hyderabad today, is the largest pearl centre of India where you can buy exquisite pearl jewellery. Andhra Pradesh also has an age-old tradition of hand-woven fabrics. Silk and cotton sarees from Pochampalli, Venkatagiri, Nayudupet, Gadwal, Narayanpet and Dharmavaram are household names throughout India.
The arts and crafts of the east are more down-to-earth, epitomized by the terracotta and pottery handicrafts, folk bronzes and kantha needlework of Bengal. The state of Orissa reflects its temple traditions with soapstone carvings of extraordinary intricacy, and appliqué work from the village of Pipli, originally home to the workshops that produced the enormous covers of the deities of the Jagannath temple in Puri. Silver filigree work, stone and wood carvings, patta paintings, tie and dye textiles, brass and horn work are available at most of the places.
The people in Assam and north-east have a tradition of artistic craftsmanship. A variety of mementoes are available in Assam like, muga silk, bell metal, cane work, woolen shawls. Assam being the commercial capital of the north-east, its markets are noisy, crowded and well-stocked. Arunachal Pradesh offers a variety of wood carvings, carpets and shawls. In Shillong, in the state of Meghalaya, one can have an interesting experience of seeing people of different tribes in colourful traditional attire. Here, one can get good bargains for hand-woven shawls, handicrafts, orange flower honey and cane work.
Manipur specializes in handloom which is a cottage industry in the state and almost every household owns a loom, with women, busy in the creation of typically unique native designs. Pick up an exotic shawl, scarf, blanket, cushion cover, bedspread or a variety of handicraft mainly in bamboo. Mizoram offers a variety of traditional Mizo handicrafts and especially the bamboo hat that is made of waterproof wild Hnahthial leaves. Tripura is known for its exceptional hand-woven cotton fabrics with tribal motifs, wood carvings, decorative articles made from bamboo roots, bamboo and cane furniture and other exquisite handicrafts. Nagaland and Sikkim also have their share of traditional handicrafts. Besides the above specialties, in all these north-eastern states, you will also find Tibetan jewelry, even chunkier and more folk-like than Rajasthan.
Rajasthan excels in enameling, lacquer and filigree work and block-printed silks and muslin. Mirror work is another art native to this area. For Western tastes, the heavy folk-art jewelry of Rajasthan has special appeal. Though it is found all-over India, those in Rajasthan are particularly beautiful. Jaipur is famous for its ‘blue pottery’ and semi precious stones, Jodhpur for antique styled furniture; and, Udaipur is particularly well known for reproduction of old miniature paintings.
Gujarat state has been renowned for its exquisite handicrafts since ancient times to the present day. Gujarat offers the best of wonderfully crafted furnishings, furniture, textiles and jewelry, which would appeal to even the most discerning buyer. The famous Sankheda wooden furniture is a Gujarat specialty. Also famous are storage boxes, metal jewelry, copper bells, baked clay items and a host of other delightful crafts.
Gujarat also produces beautiful, hand-woven tie-dyed textiles, popular chakla patchwork and glass wall hangings. Intricate embroidered garments include skirts, blouses, kurtas and jackets. The Rann of Kutch is renowned for its mirror work.
Although Mumbai is a gigantic emporium attracting goods from all over India, two of the most well-known handicrafts of Maharashtra are Kolhapuri chappals and the Paithani sari in silk, bordered with opulent zari. Handloom silks are Aurangabad’s chief delights, as are the delicate muslin and silks of Khambat (better known as Cambay).
The original and traditional crafts of Goa include the pottery and terracotta items like flower garden pots, bowls with floral designs, figures of saints, Gods and Goddesses and animals, ashtrays and pen holders. Goa is also famous for brass metal casting, a craft passed on from one generation to another practiced on hereditary basis. The brass metal ware craft items include oil lamps in various designs, candle stands, temple towers, church bells, ashtrays, etc. Other well-known handicrafts of Goa are wooden laquerware/wood turning, crochet & embroidery, bamboo craft, fibre craft, jute macramé craft, coconut mask and sea-shell craft.