India Art and Crafts

Cave Paintings Ajanta Paintings Stone Carving Art Of Body Painting Madhubani Paintings
Terracotta Crafts Traditions Metal Work Jewellery Styles Sculpture-The Essence Of Art
CarpetsAnd Textiles Sarees & Fabrics Woodwork Designs On Floors Contemporary Painting
Pottery Styles In Use Cane And Bamboo Jingle Jangle Experience A Crafts Fair India Crafts Council

Arts & Crafts - A Living Tradition India is a storehouse of art forms from paintings that flourished from earlier periods, to its sensitive tradition of crafts. Its living traditions are a testimony to numerous art styles. From paintings in caves, temples to even roofs and courtyards of homes, Indians have in the arts, sought a spiritual contentment. Some art forms are homage to Gods, and are laced with humility. Artists believed that since art served a specific purpose of addressing the divine, there was no need to add their signatures to the artworks.

Indian arts and handicrafts have, since time immemorial, captivated the imagination of people globally. Every state in India boasts of an exclusivity and speciality, depending upon its historical influences, traditional skills, and raw materials. India is world renowned for its dexterity in paintings, exquisite embroidery, beautiful sculptures in stone, metal, wood. temple carvings and elegantly designed jewellery.

Paintings appeared on pots found in the Indus Valley Civilization as early as the 3rd century B.C. The cave paintings of Ajanta and Ellora date back to the 1st to 5th century A.D. These, including the wall paintings on Brahadeeswara temple in Thanjavur from 1st century A.D. and the Kalamkari art forms in the Vidharba temple in Lepakshi, portray advanced techniques and refinement of creative styles.

Places where murals from ancient periods have survived include the caves of Ajanta, Bagh, Badami, Ellora, Kailasanatha Temple, Talagirisvara Temple. Brahadiswara Temple and the Virupasaka Temple. Best known are the Ajanta Caves carved out of volcanic rock in the Deccan Plateau. The cave paintings were done by artists employed by Buddhist monks who turned the stone walls into picture books of Buddha's life and teachings. The artists, in doing so, portrayed costumes, ornaments and styles of the court life of the times. Close to the ancient trade routes, the caves attracted traders and pilgrims through whom the art style travelled to China and Japan.

The paintings of India have many dimensions to them. Most of the paintings are intricate with clarity in minute detail. Different techniques are used to produce the most exquisite designs and works. The colours used are vibrant and the themes range from royal portraits and events to illustrations of innumerable Gods and Goddesses. The painting techniques are exciting and abundant.

The Glass Painting technique dates back to the courts of l6th century Maharajas of Tanjore. Tanjavur or modern Tanjore in Tamil Nadu, is famous for a special style of decorating the paintings which were done both on glass and board, a piece of ply covered with cloth, which is then treated with lime. The required images are outlined. Following this, semi-precious stones, beaten gold leaf and gilt metal are stuck on the image with a mixture of sawdust and glue. The skill of the craftsman lies in balancing the effect of the stones. Krishna in various poses has been the main theme.

The Kalamkari technique of painting involves drawing outlines with burnt tamarind twigs dipped in molasses and iron filings. Vegetable dyes of deep shades are used to create epic scenes. With repeated subdued colouring processes, a sober but fine effect is achieved. The finished product depicts mythological themes with larger than life figures. The enormous scope of expression ascertains that no two panels are alike.

The Pata Chitra painters are attached to the family of the Jagannath Temple of Puri. In this tradition, the cloth, cotton or tussar, is coated with a mixture of chalk, tamarind seed and gum giving the surface a leathery finish. These are also drawn on palm leaves. 'Scroll' painting or parchment, is perhaps one of the oldest traditions in painting. In this technique, a pictorial account of the deities and miracles are painted. The lines are distinct and vibrant colours are used. It is also practised by a select group of families at Warangal.

So minute are the details, that they can often be missed by the naked eye.

Phad painting is done by artists belonging to a family of painters in Bhilwara in Rajasthan. The themes usually depict historic tales of Rajput chieftains, painted on long cloth lengths. The outlines of the paintings are first drawn in block and later filled with colours.

Ivory painting involves highly delicate brush work using the colours from crushed stone. The ivory is first treated and smoothened. Outlines of the image, usually of a Mughal emperor, are drawn and delicately filled with colour. Today, however there is a ban on ivory and camel bones are used instead.

Madhubani partings come from Bihar. Initially drawn on walls, today this painting has found its way to handmade paper and cloth. Straight lines are drawn and these are filled in with bright and vibrant colours.

Thanks paintings from Leh in Ladakh revolve around the Buddha and ritual worship. Forms of dragons dominate. Thanks, painted on silk, are popular for their brilliant colour display as wall hangings.

Miniature paintings used vegetable dyes and derivatives from nature. While the art exists today, it is not as refined and most of it finds itself on roadsides where it is picked up by tourists. It existed in different forms in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Buddhist deities, Jain forms, tales from the Ramayana and Mahabharata dominate. The paintings are replete with motifs of flora and fauna in bold and striking colours, with human figures in brilliantly designed turbans and outfits.

Cave Paintings The artists applied mud plaster in two coats on the rocks. The first coat was used to fill in the pores of the rough rocks, followed by a coat of lime plaster. The painting was done in stages. The outline was made in red ochre and then filled in with brown, deep red or black. The pigments for the paints were from local volcanic rocks with the exception of lamp black. Because animal and vegetable glues were used, the paintings were attacked by insects, and suffered from blistering and flaking. In the later paintings where the figures stand out boldly, deep colour washes were used. Patches of light colours highlighted facial expressions and various methods were used to create an illusion of depth.

Ajanta Paintings A high degree of craftsmanship incorporating all the rules laid down by ancient Indian treatises on paintings and aesthetics are evident here. One cannot bur notice the fluid yet firm lines, long sweeping brush strokes outlining graceful contours, subtle gradation of the same colour, highlighted nose, eyelids and lips that make the figures transpire from the flat wall surface. Animals, birds, trees, flowers, architectures are painted in their true form of beauty. Human emotions and characters are depicted with great understanding and skill.
Attenuated postures, supple limbs, artistic features, a great variety of hair styles and styles of ornaments and jewellery painted in the Ajanta caves indicate the skill of its artisans. In a mural in Cave 10, fifty elephants are painted in different poses. The bulky forms are portrayed in all perspective views, with erect tails and raised trunks, showing them sensing danger.

Designs On Floors Rangoli, also known as Alpana and Kolam, is the art of decorating floors and walls of houses using the powder of white stone, lime or rice flour, with bare Fingers in place of a brush. Most Rangoli designs are motifs of plants and animals, though there are geometrical designs as well. Each state has its own styles of painting. On special occasions, it is painted in every home, with or without formal training. Women compete with each other to draw a new design for every occasion. Rangoli is used as a tool for propitiating the Cods.

Madhubani Paintings A folk art, Madhubam paintings are done by women living near the market town of Madhubani in Bihar. The representational but stylized and symbolic Madhubani tradition incorporates the great life-cycle rite of marriage. It portrays some of the major Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon and domesticated and wild animals. The figures from nature and mythology have been painted through centuries on household walls to mark seasonal festivals of the religious year and for special events such as marriages. The women came to be acknowledged as "artists" only in the last three decades. It was a major drought in 1966-68 that brought the region into world recognition, resulting in the All-India Handicrafts Board taking notice. It then started encouraging the women artists to produce their traditional paintings on handmade paper for commercial sale. Even now, most of the work remains anonymous as some of them being illiterate remain reluctant to consider themselves individual producers of "works of art".
Commercialization of the folk art has been a mixed blessing. It has generated a multilevel distribution system. It has also allowed people around the world to discover a style of art with a long heritage linked to the lives of women, one that has preserved its authenticity. And, one that has created a new source of gainful employment for rural Indian women. The continuing market in this art throughout the world is a tribute to the resourcefulness of the women of Madhubani who have successfully transferred their techniques of bhitti chitra or wall-painting to the medium of paper and have resisted the temptation to adapt their traditional designs too freely in pursuit of unpredictable public tastes.

Art Of Body Painting Painting the body in stylized designs with henna paste, is an ancient practice followed in India during festive and special occasions like marriages. Henna (Mehendi in the north) or Maruthani as it is known in Tamil Nadu, is derived from the leaves of the henna plant. The leaves are ground into a thick paste, and applied in geometric designs on the palms and soles of the feet and left to dry. Once washed off, a red pigmentation is left behind on the applied area. This style of decoration is also used by dancers on their feet. Henna is a proven coolant for the body and is now used for medicinal purposes the world over and also as a hair dye. Shekhawati – India's Open Air Art Gallery
Shekhawati in North East Rajasthan that once fell on the Spice route of merchants, is an open air treasure. Its numerous painted homes linings the streets of small towns make the region the largest open air art gallery m the world.
The architecture of the 19th and 20th centuries consists of an exaggerated display of the wealth of the merchants of the region (Marwaris). This region is special, as it has produced the maximum number of millionaires and billionaires in India. Shekhawati is named after its ruler Rao Shekha of the I5th century. Strategically placed on the route between the ports of Gujarat and northern India, the region became very prosperous by imposing levies on the caravans of traders passing through. When the region's fortunes fell after the development of new ports like Mumbai and Kolkata, the merchants migrated en masse.
The paintings are to be found everywhere in profusion, on walls, balconies, ceilings, arches and pillars, on the dome of the cenotaphs (cremation grounds) and even on the rim or the wells.
The havelis (homes with courtyards) are huge. The piece de resistance is the fine depiction of various designs and characters in the form or frescoes covering all walls and ceilings. Blue and maroon are prominent colours, though vivid golds are also used. Illustrations range from floral to mythology to even scientific inventions. The paintings convey that the prosperous merchants must have been very impressed by their overseas travels as there are several paintings of English ladies, motorcars, gramophones and even the Wright brothers!
Prominent towns of the region are Nawalgarh, Mandawa, Mahansar, Mukundgarh, Lachhmangarh. Singhana, Parsrampura, Khetri, Baggar and Jhunjhunu.

Contemporary Painting The blossoming of contemporary art in India has become evident to the international art community only recently. As artists in India have adapted traditional imagery and ideas to modern artistic practice, the nation has begun to contribute to the multiplicity of variations on modernism reflective of non-western cultures. Artists working with oil acrylic are in demand in India. Their works are not intended to serve any functional purpose, but as in modern Western canvases, are modes of self-expression. Contemporary art from India presents two distinct yet coexisting cultures that create art-folk and tribal and the other, urban and modern.
Maqbool Fida Husain is one of the best known artists in the subcontinent. The most influential painter since the 1950s, his subject matter is pointedly local and indigenous. While some of his work is neo-cubistic, he has used the spectrum of Indian myths and folklore to striking effects.
Other known artists include Satish Gujaral, whose work draws inspiration from a painful and emotionally surcharged past. When the true chronicle of contemporary Indian art will be written, Tyeb Mehta will be seen as one of its benefactors. In F. N. Souza's veins seems to run a trace of the determined Vasco da Gama blood. He also seems to have been baptized in the church of the bull painting Spanish master. And if we call this artistic fun, the painter has had plenty of it. Master painter Krishen Khanna has done very different orders of work throughout the years, right from the Japanese Sumie to Che Guvera, and now there is the search into his own roots of much distinction.

Crafts Traditions A creator becomes one with the Supreme Being when involved in giving shape to his art form. He who is able to see things with a perceptive eye and is able to equate the form to matter, space and energy creates. This tradition has been established in India from 3,000 B.C. Nature's creations have been adapted by the artisans, be it in making pots, plates, nutcrackers hairpins, combs or utensils.
Indian handicrafts have made a name for themselves the world over. Ancient skills have been perfected by craftsmen who have learnt the trade from their fathers, as did their fathers before them. This tradition continues over the centuries, safeguarding the wide and varied artistic wealth of India.
Today, this tradition unfolds itself in an overwhelming variety of products, combining aesthetic appeal with utilitarian value. To satisfy modern tastes and meet international demand, design institutes have been giving a new look to these traditional crafts. These beautiful items are like a breath of fresh air in an age of mechanisation and mass production. The high calibre of skills exhibited in creating the products has stood the test of time. What's more, craftsmen have shown great ingenuity and flexibility in adapting to the requirements of the modern age.

Metal Work The use of metals symbolised man's understanding of his mortality and his innate desire to leave for posterity, his creations, which would withstand the vagaries of time. Deities were made both as solid casting and hollow casting, and some ancient books, the Shastaras, laid down proportions to enable the artisans to create exquisite figures in relation to human eyes' perception. The deities were adorned with glittering jewels and even the prayer items used in temples and households were beautifully designed and crafted. Everywhere in India, one finds idols and statues in temples and on the streets. For a people so given to idol worship, it was natural to develop sculpting skills of the highest order. Brasswork from the princely state of Jaipur, the black stylized vases and urns from Pembarthi and polished brass mirrors of Aranmula have today evolved into design statements. Metal and bronze sculptures of South India continue in an unbroken lineage from the Chola period dating back to a thousand years.
In all villages and towns, blacksmiths are intrinsic to the milieu, producing cooking utensils and stoves in addition to kitchen accessories including spatulas, knives and hammers. The spectrum of metalsmiths in India includes the simple blacksmiths serving the needs of agricultural communities to the sophisticated 'kammalar' community of metalsmiths who claim descent from Vishwakarma.
The Buddhist blacksmith community of Ladakh carry out the most interesting brass work, making kitchen stoves, 'thap chabrik' with decorative brass Buddhist motifs. Skilled blacksmiths also make sophisticated locks with up to twelve levers with beautifully ornamented keys. Locks are a speciality of Ajmer, Aligarh and Meerut.
Quality work in silver, copper and brass is done in Chilling. Ladakh, where the 12th century-inspired copper ladles and ornate tea kettles are crafted. Copper vessels are also produced in the Kashmir Valley. Copper samovars, ornamental glasses and water Jugs are not merely utilitarian but indicate a dedication to beauty.
Brass, first produced in India by fusing zinc with copper, over two thousand years ago, gets its expression in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, the largest centre for hand engraved brass.
Engraving, the most refined of all processes, has various styles known as Japani, mehrani, chikan and bidri. Lacquer colours in deep red, yellow, black and blue are filled in the engraving. Places, bowls, ashtrays, of polished brass, make excellent decorative metalware.
Gujarat has a wide range of brass objects made by the 'kansara' community. Storage chests made by the kathi community in Saurashtra has diverse uses. The large 'dhablo' or 'katordan', a round casket with three stout legs and a bowl-shaped upper portion topped with a smaller box and a large brass ring on the top serves as a trousseau chest, storage pot for grain, and in olden times, for storing jewels. The entire casket tied by a strong rope passed through the rings would be lowered in a well during battles or skirmishes to protect the jewellery. Utility items such as nut crackers, with flower motifs and animal figures, kohl containers, foot scrappers with bells, are a credit to the skill or the metalsmiths.
Bell metal, an alloy of copper and tin is used extensively in Kerala to cast cooking vessels. In addition, beautiful lamps made for temples are over five feet high with circular recesses to hold the oil for lighting.
The elegant bidri work of Bidar and Hyderabad has brass inlaid upon an alloy or silver and copper and blackened by dipping the object in a copper sulphate solution. This craft was brought into India from Iraq 900 years ago and continues to be practiced. The adaptable folk idiom, has produced a plethora of objects for hunting. fishing besides lamps, ornaments and toys particularly in West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar.
In their simplicity, emerges a unique view of nature through the age old processes of metalwork.
The bronzes of India defy age, looking as fresh today as they would have coming out or the sculptor's mould many centuries ago. Indian bronzes speak volumes about the expertise of an art form that was born very long ago and still holds the strings of continuity in the story of Indian tradition.
The earliest mention or bronze is found in the epic called the Matsya Purana. The findings in the ruins of Mohenjodaro and the discovery of the figure of the dancing girl showed that sculpture along with the use of metal alloys was well known to people of that period.

Jewellery Styles From ancient times, jewellery in India has not been mere ornamental or decorative items, but has gained the status of providing proof of various stages of a person's life. For instance, piercing a child's ear signifies its entry into the world, the man wearing the sacred gold thread from left to right shoulder, signifies his entry into educational age, while the tali (Mangalsutra) for women indicates they are married. Gold, silver, copper and bronze are the metals that have been used traditionally for making jewels which were also inlaid with precious gems and beads, that acted as talisman for protection from various evils. Filigree work has patterns of flowers, butterflies, birds and geometrical shapes made with silver wires of varying thickness creating a delicate lace-like appearance. Orissa and Andhra Pradesh specialize in this style.
Meenakari and Kundan are styles from Jaipur and Delhi influenced by the Mughals. The jewellery can be worn on both sides. The temple jewellery of Nagercoil has traditional gold ornaments studded with red and green semiprecious stones.
In Assam, soft 24 carat gold is fashioned into earrings and necklaces modelled on local flora and fauna. For instance, earnings resembling orchids.
In Nagaland, gold is used to craft imitations of the human head and long funnel shaped beads are used in combination with shells, animal claws and teeth and precious and semiprecious stones. The designs in solid gold jewellery of Tamil Nadu and Kerala are inspired by nature.
Silversmiths of Himachal Pradesh craft large delicate and intricate ornaments. Headdresses called chak, long earrings and large nose-rings with papal Seat or bird motif's are the specialties of the region. In Ladakh, silver charm boxes and headdresses called perak with rows of turquoise, cornelian, coral and agate stitched onto it, are a common sight.

Carpets And Textiles Of India Travelling through India can be a sartorial adventure. Each region has an abundance of traditional outfits. The colours and the weaves are unique in each state and the ornamentation or printing, mirrors the images of the region. The peacock motifs of Lucknow, the chinar leaf of Kashmir, the royal scenes of Kanchipuram and the checks and stripes or Maharashtra, all add to make a collage rich and vibrant in colour, design and fabric. Traditional Indian textiles have romantic origins that date back several centuries. References to weaving proliferate right from the Vedas. With the birth of weaving, associated accessories like needle work and embroidery followed. The artisans from each region formed their own styles, drawing inspiration from nature.
No other land envoys such a profusion of creative energies for the production of textiles. Styles of weaving and the choice of textiles are dependent on the topography of the region and the influences of the various cultures prevalent.
India's legendary textiles have remained unchanged in their timelessness. Carpets, silks and cottons were tabled export treasures when India was a maritime superpower in ancient times. Plush silk carpets, honed under Mughal design sensibilities, have graced many royal homes. Fine knotted cotton durries as well as sturdy rugs and Islamic prayer rugs or kilims from Rajasthan are woven even today.
Pile carpets were probably introduced into India from Iran. During the Mughal period, this craft flourished in Agra. Delhi and Lahore. Kashmir developed its carpet industry in the 15th century AD. Here carpet making closely follows the shawl-weaving tradition with designs based on Persian and Central Asian styles.
The important centres of carpet weaving in India are Srinagar in Kashmir, Jaipur in Rajasthan, Amritsar in Punjab. Mirzapur and Agra in Uttar Pradesh and Warangal and Elluru in Andhra Pradesh. Amritsar, a late entrant, developed us industry only at the start of the !9th century. It has a tradition of weaving fine quality rugs with geometrical patterns called Mouri. Jaipur, Mirzapur and Bhadoi produce quality carpets, which vary from 80 knots to 120 knots per square inch. In Andhra Pradesh, geometrical- patterned carpers of quality of around 30 to 60 knots per inch are mostly meant for export.
A variety of floor coverings are used in Indian homes. The durree is a cotton-woven thick fabric meant for spreading on the floor. Weaving of a durree is a common sight in most Indian villages. The flat woven rugs can be found all over India. Some areas only produce cotton durries, but those in Jodhpur, Rajasthan include cotton, wool and silk. The geometric designs are produced by tapestry technique which is a slow process using separate bobbins or butterflies for each colour across the width interlocking with the adjacent coloured yarn. The weavers sit cross-legged on the side of the loom, sometimes with a weaver on each side.
In the states of Punjab and Haryana, the Jat women weave durrees for their personal use. Jaisalmer and Barmer in Rajasthan produce woollen durnes. Uttar Pradesh is an important commercial weaving centre for durrees. Other centres for weaving include Navalgund in Karnataka and Salem in Tamil Nadu. The Navalgund durrees are also known as Jamkhans. Richly patterned in rust, yellow, green and black, they depict stylized parrots and peacocks. The Salem durrees, woven in silk and cotton are prepared in brilliant colours with a central pattern of lotus and borders with flowing floral patterns. Warangal near Hyderabad, is known for the Bandha or Ikat durrees. Kashmir is known for Namdas, Hook rugs and Gabbas. Namdas are made of felted wool and cotton and are embroidered with woollen chain stitches. The hook rug is made with chain stitch embroidery worked with a hook called ahri. A thick jute cloth is used and then it is embroidered fully so that the base material is not visible. The Gabba is a kind of an applique work done on worn out woollen blankets.