The Handicrafts of India

by newuser09876 17. July 2010 12:42

The Handicrafts of India


People often wonder about the significance of handicrafts in the contemporary scenario. The answer perhaps lies embedded in the origins of our cultural revolution; in an era when art, pageantry and the human spirit were inseparable. The history of handicrafts is as ancient as human civilisation itself. In ancient times, not only was it an expression of creativity, but also the principal canvas for recording and archiving the history and culture of a particular period.

The evolution of handicrafts in Indian society was perhaps the sign of the stirring of humanism, akin to the renaissance in Europe. The earliest references date back to the Indus Valley Civilization, almost 5000 years ago.

The artistic tradition in India was originally influenced by religious beliefs. But domestic needs of common folk and the whims of royal patrons also played a decisive role. It was due to the latter, that handicrafts evolved into a highly decorative form. These artistic traditions have withstood the ravages of time and countless invasions. They continue to flourish even today due to the assimilative nature of Indian culture and the ability of the Indian artisan to adopt new ideas and fuse it with traditional concepts.

It was perhaps in the 3rd century B.C. under the aegis of the great empires that it evolved into an art form from its former utilitarian role. This was also the outcome of an effort to introduce elegance and grace into an otherwise mundane existence. While a weapon like the bow and arrow became embellished in tribal decorations, household items like pottery became vehicles of human expression. Crafts are ambassadors of their respective cultures. They are symbols of beliefs, superstitions, and social change through the ages. They also chronicle past battles and the deeds of their war heroes, legends, and lifestyles. 

A very simplistic geometric shape when repeated on a surface can create the most exquisite of patterns. Add colour, and you have the most magical combination of line and form. It is in the totality of this ultimate conceptualisation that the intrinsic significance of the object lies. A craft can either be a functional aid in our daily activities, or something that is just aesthetically pleasing.

In India (which is a cradle for an infinite variety of artistic forms and a fountainhead for religious art) handicraft has also evolved as a means of gratifying the divine. The religious masks that play an intrinsic role in the classical dances of south India and the ritualistic masks of northeast India are among the best examples. Today, traditional art entwined with contemporary influences has given Indian crafts a universal acceptability. The attempts of state governments and NGOs to invest in artisans’ colonies and provide a channel to showcase their work has also paid rich dividends and revived many a dying craft.

While there are elaborate stories told by the Puppeteers of Rajasthan, many a tribal legend is chronicled in the Warli Paintings of Maharashtra and the bell metal work of Bastar. The stone idols of Mahabalipuram, the Batique and mirror work of Gujarat and the hand-woven carpets of Kashmir, all have their individual tales to tell. Today, pieces created by our tribal artisans are worthy of being placed alongside the work of any great artist. A craft can only flourish if it is economically viable for the artist. Unless we take cognisance of this fact, we might just lose the countless artistic traditions that have evolved in our backyards.


Sunil Vaidyanathan/ Shayoni Mitra


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