Dugarpur Arts and Crafts of Rajasthan
Rajasthan, the Abode of Kings, has enough decorative arts and crafts
to cater to an army of kings. Not surprising then, that no one comes
away empty-handed from this gloriously picturesque state. Starting
from wood and shellac work, you can pick anything from miniature
paintings, cotton and silk textiles to precious stones and exquisite
silver and gold jewellery. Heres the lowdown on some of
Rajasthans most sought after handicrafts.
¤ Bandhani or Tie and Dye
As the name suggests, this technique involves two stages: tying
sections of a length of cloth (silk or cotton) and then dunking it
into vats of colour. The rainbow-tinged turbans of the Rajputs and the
odhnis of their women are shaded by this method of resist dyeing. Your
visit to Jaipur wont be complete without a trip to the nearby
towns of Bagru and Sanganer, where you can observe the Chhipa
community of dyers at work.
The main colours used in Bandhani are yellow, green, red and black.
It is essentially a household craft supervised by the head of the
family. The fabric is skillfully knotted by the women, while the
portfolio of dyeing rests with the men. The women often grow a long
nail on the little finger of the left hand, or wear a ring with a
little blunt spike on it, with which they push the cloth upwards to
form a tiny peak.
The Jaipur dyer rarely works with more than two dye baths while the
additional colours are spot dyed, which makes the process much easier.
Thereafter, the fabric opens out into amazing designs in kaleidoscopic
colours: dots, circles, squares, waves and stripes.
The laheriya or the ripple effect is achieved by a variation of this
technique. Lengths of permeable muslin are rolled diagonally from one
corner to the opposite, bound tightly at intervals and then dyed. The
ties are then undone and the process repeated by diagonally rolling
the adjacent corner toward the opposite and repeating the process.
Both Jaipur and Jodhpur are major centres of laheriya. Jaipur in
particular, thanks to its status as the state capital, has girt its
loins to meet the extensive demands of both the domestic and export
Tie and dye cloth is never too expensive but be warned that the
colours always run. So if youve bought silk, its safer to
get it dry-cleaned.
Rajasthan has a long and distinguished traditon of printing with
finely carved wooden blocks. What you might have already seen in Delhis
Rajasthali or Fabindia is merely the tip of the iceberg. Head for
Bagru and Sanganer, not far from Jaipur, to see for yourself how cloth
is printed by hand.
This method, though labourious, is actually quite simple and merely
calls for precision. The cloth is laid out flat on a table or bench
and a freshly dipped block is handpressed on to the fabric to form a
continuous, interlocking pattern. The block carries dye if the
original colour of the cloth has to be preserved.
If the cloth has to be dyed, the block is used to apply an
impermeable resist a material such as clay, resin or wax
to demarcate the pattern that is not to be coloured. Later, when the
cloth is dyed, the pattern emerges in reverse. Traditonally,
block-printing relied on the use of natural dyes and pigments, but now
synthetic dyes have gained currency as they are cheaper. If you belong
to the green brigade, stick to eco-friendly naturally dyed cloth.
The floral motifs favoured by the printers of Bagru and Sanganer are
Persian in origin, though Sanganeri designs are more sophisticated.
They usually have a white or pale background decorated with colorful
twigs or sprays. The not-so-fine Bagru prints were initially meant for
peasants and had a light brown background. Today, however, Bagru isnt
the poor second cousin any more.
Block-printed cloth is sure to fade too after a few washes. Once
again, stick to dry cleaning.
Dhurrie, the poor mans carpet, is suddenly in vogue all over the
world. Earlier relegated to being an underlay for expensive carpets or
sandwiched between the wooden frame and mattresses of a bed, it now
occupies a place of pride in many crystal-flaunting drawing rooms.
These flatwoven cotton rugs are made on age old ground looms and the
design varies according to Hindu or Muslim custom. In the villages of
Rajasthan, dhurrie-weaving is still pretty much a family affair and
nowhere as fancy as in Agra and Fatehpur-Sikri in UP or Coimbatore and
Salem down south.
In the hamlets of southwestern Rajasthan you wont spot a
single house without an embroidered toran or frieze hung above the
doorway. The women of this region and adjoining Kutch and Saurashtra
districts of Gujarat are adept at needlework. Embroidered
torans, odhnis, shawls, ghagras (long, flowing skirt) and blouses
that come to life with colourful motifs and the sparkle of tiny
mirrors or shishas, are a mandatory part of their bridal dowry. Youll
even find embroidered leather bags, saddles and ethnic footwear
(popularly dubbed mojdis or jooties), but these are particularly the
domain of men.
¤ Gems, Kundan , Meenakari and Jewellery
With the fierce Rajputs and the imperious Mughals having earmarked
Rajasthan as their own, jewellery-making was elevated to the level of
an art. The kings themselves wore enough baubles to outshine their
womenfolk, though, as their portraits stand witness, there was nothing
effeminate or pansy about them. Consequently, all manner of precious
and semi-precious stones can be purchased in Rajasthan.
Chunky silver ornaments with floral, geometric and religious motifs
are favoured by both trendy city girls and peasant women. This
jewellery forms an integral part of a village brides dowry.
Jaipur and Udaipur are famous for the setting of gems in gold by the
age-old Indian technique of Kundan. Some of the most exquisite pieces
of Mughal and Rajput jewellery - its impossible to tell the
motifs of one from the other as the styles have merged completely -
like the turban ornament set with emeralds and diamonds have been
executed in this style.
The Rajasthani enamel artisan, the maker of meenakari jewellery, is
also a notch more accomplished than the meenakar (enameller) of any
other state. Sample the breathtakingly magnificent turban ornaments
from the Jaipur treasury, enamelled in colours typical of the Jaipur
palette: red, white, green, blue and yellow.
Rajasthan has an ancient tradition of art which began with the
dwellers desire to escape the harsh landscape of the desert by
painting the walls of their homes. Starting from the floral and
geometric patterns in the humblest mud house, through the paintings on
the havelis of Shekhawati, to the elaborate frescoes in Amber Palace,
Jaipur, wall art has been honed to perfection by the colour-loving
craftsmen and women of Rajasthan.
A more portable form of art for all you tourists are the phads,
pichvais and miniature paintings that, once again, in true Rajput and
Mughal tradition, abound in colour and detail. A phad depicts the
adventures and travails of some local or epic hero while the pichvai
(literally, something at the back) unfolds scenes from the
life of the Hindu deity Lord Krishna and is used as a backdrop for his
idol at the Nathdwara Temple, near Udaipur. The elegant miniatures
portray palace and court scenes from the Mughal period and chronicle
the hunting expeditions of its larger-than-life emperors. Legends
centring around Lord Krishna and his consort Radha also find
expression in the miniatures.
pottering about on their wheel and fashioning all kinds of pitchers
and earthenware are a common sight in India. While pottery for daily
use (like gharas and surahis) is made all over Rajasthan, certain
areas specializing in a particular type. Jaipur is known for its regal
blue-glazed pottery introduced in India by early Muslim rulers. The
blue glaze was initially used to liven up the visual appeal of
mosques, tombs and palaces - youll spot the extensive use of
these tiles in the old city of Jaipur.
Another hotspot is the village of Molela, 40km north of Udaipur,
which excels in terracotta pottery, sculpted plaques and icons of
Rajput heroes and Hindu deities. Black pottery, better sourced in
South India, makes its mark up north in the district of Dausa, west of
Jaipur. Nowhere as ornamental as its southern counterpart, this one is
known for its minimalist and sleek forms.
¤ Ivory Carving
Rajasthan has its main ivory carving centres at Udaipur, Bharatpur
and Jaipur from where master ivory carvers were once favoured by the
royal courts. While Jaipur was famous for its carved ivory, Jodhpur
specialized in ivory bangles. The bangles were worn to cover the whole
arm and they decreased in size from just below the shoulder to the
wrist. The Bikaner Palace is more well known and prominent for its
artistic ivory inlaid doors than the palace itself. Carved ivory
artefacts can be purchased in and around Jaipur but the export of
ivory in any form from India is strictly prohibited.
Kathputlis or wooden puppets are a common and popular form of
entertainment in the villages of Rajasthan. The puppeteer is the
storyteller who unwinds a folk tale or an episode from the Hindu epics
- the Ramayana or the Mahabharata along with the deft interplay
of various puppets, each signifying a character in the tale.
Unfortunately, puppet theatre in India is under serious threat from
television and cinema, and it may soon be curtains for this animated
style of amusement. You may not find too many puppeteers these days,
but what you will find is that these well-crafted marionettes are up
for sale and look quite sensational in urban homes.
Rajasthan has a long history in leather craft and industry and
leather shoes known as jootis or mojdis are made in Jaipur and
Jodhpur. Embroidery known as kashida is done on the jootis: in Jaipur
it is first done on velvet which is then made to cover the shoes while
in Jodhpur it is applied directly to the leather. This embroidery is
mainly done by the women, who also does a bit of fancy stitching or
appliqué work to give a designer look to the shoes that have
neither a left or a right foot.
Leather is also used for bookbinding and Alwar is well reputed for
this craft that flourished in the 19th century under Maharaja Banni
Singh. Bikaner is again famous for its kopis or camel-hide water
people of Rajasthan make up with the brilliancy of colour in their
clothes what the desert lacks. The palette runs from a striking red,
through flaming pink, electric blue, acid green to sunshine yellow.
Rajasthans best known dyeing technique is the bandhani or tie
and dye and is widely practiced in Sikar, Jaipur, Bikaner, Jodhpur,
Ajmer, and Udaipur. Cotton or silk cloth is tied into sections to
exclude the dye to achieve a two-colour effect. For a more intricate
design, different sections are tied at every stage of dyeing and a
variety of colours are used. When this method is used to achieve a
striped or ripple effect, it is termed laheriya.
Another technique, especially fascinating for foreigners, is the
printing of cloth with carved wooden blocks. Jaipur, Ajmer, Udaipur,
Chittaurgarh, Jodhpur and Bikaner, are the strongholds of this craft.
A later-day development is the method of embossed printing with gold
and silver called Khari.
Woodcarving is traditionally considered an adjunct of architecture
in India, as can be seen from the elaborately carved doors and windows
of Rajasthans fairytale palaces and the fantastic havelis of
Jaisalmer. Now, due to lack of architectural commissions,
master-carvers have turned to making furniture, dowry chests, wooden
panels and jewellery boxes. Barmer and Jodhpur produce the finest
wooden carved chairs with woven-rope seats and exquisite jali or
latticework on the backrest.
An equally charming technique called tarkashi involves the laying of
fine brass or copper wire into carefully chiselled grooves. The
patterns, once again an amalgam of Rajput and Mughal styles, are
floral, leaf and creeper.