Art & Crafts in Jaipur
¤ 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.
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 drycleaning.
¤ Stone Carving & Sculpture
There are back lanes in Jaipur that ring with the sound of
diamond-tipped chisels and hammers, carefully chipping away at blocks
of marble and red or yellow sandstone. Till the royalty held sway in
India, stone carving received ample patronage in the form of
architectural commissions. In fact, when founding the city of Jaipur,
Sawai Jai Singh earmarked a whole lane for stone carvers, naming it
Silawaton ka Mohalla. Some of Jaipurs best showpieces are the
latticework in the City Palace; the sandstone carvings and ornamental
stonework at the Hawa Mahal and the Amber Fort gateways.
Today, the stone carvers have to make do with idol making and
sculptures. The heart of this industry lies in the southwest quarter
of Jaipur. White Makrana marble is carted here in roughly-shaped
blocks. A row of holes is drilled and iron wedges hammered into it
till the block breaks down along its line of weakness. To craft the
figure, a vertical line is drawn along the axis and the sculptor keeps
shaping the outline as he goes along. Its all done very
carefully as even a slight crack renders the idol useless for worship.
Apart from gods and goddesses, these men who transform stone into
poetry, also fashion animals, human figures and plain geometric forms.
A common sight in the curio and gift shops of Jaipur is boxes, tables
and trays with brass or copper inlay work. This type of work is called
tarkashi and it utilises burnished metal wire or tar set in the wood
to create delicate geometric patterns. Deeper, in the narrow alleyways
of the city, you can locate master craftsmen at work. Onto a plain,
dark shisham surface, a naqsha (map) of the design is glued. The
outline is then incised into the wood with a small chisel. The worker
cuts 2 mm ribbons from a sheet of brass or copper, tempers them and
then, placing one on edge in an incised line, he hammers it until it
is level with the surface. The metal comes in various gauges, the
thickest being used for strong outlines, the finest for details such
as hair. A lick of polish and varnish, and the object is ready for
get confused this tarkashi is different from that of Bengal, where it
¤ Zari, Gota, Kinari & Zardozi
Zari is gold, and zardozi embroidery is the glitteringly ornate,
heavily encrusted gold thread work practised in Jaipur and a few other
cities of India. To most foreigners - used to sleek, understated wear
- the north Indian brides lehanga, choli and dupatta, heavily
emroidered with gold and silver threads comes as a visual shock.
Either real silver thread, gold-plated thread or an imitation which
has a copper base gilded with gold or silver colour, is used for zari.
Traditionally made for Mughal and Rajput nobility, it has now been
officially adopted as bridalwear by anyone who can afford it. of
course, the days of using real gold and silver thread are now history.
What you can get, however, is synthetic or tested zari
embroidery. Metal ingots are melted and pressed through perforated
steel sheets, to be converted into wires. They are then hammered to
the required thinness. Plain wire is called badla, and when wound
round a thread, it is called kasav. Smaller spangles are called
sitara, and tiny dots made of badla are called mukaish.
Akin to applique, gota work involves placing woven gold cloth onto
other fabric to create different surface textures. Kinari, or edging,
as the word suggests, is the fringed or tasselled border decoration.
This art is predominantly practised by Muslim craftsmen.
Zardozi, a more elaborate version of zari, involves the use of gold
threads, spangles, beads, seed pearls, wire, gota and kinari.
Zardozi work makes a garment quite heavy so do try it on before
buying. Besides, the metal thread work can make your skin feel itchy,
see if you can handle that.
¤ Silver Jewellery
Traditionally, jewellery has served as a repository of wealth, and a
bejewelled wife is the familys walking-talking treasury. While
the prince had his gold, the peasant found security in silver. The
village women of Rajasthan are togged up from head to toe in
cumbersome silver ornaments, which they never remove.
The various kinds of adornments they use are: tikka or the spherical
pendant on the forehead; dangling earrings called jhumkas; hansli or
the choker; nath or the nosering which may be attached with a chain to
the adjacent jhumka; a girdle or taqri for the waist; a series of
bracelets called kadas; anklets with tiny bells on them; and finally
the chakti or toe rings of the married women. Not to be outdone, the
macho men of Rajasthan commonly wear chokers, earrings and bracelets.
Jaipur, youll find silver jewellery makers and exporters near
the Badi Chaupad in Johari Bazaar. Ornate tribal designs, geometric
patterns and filigree work are much in demand. A relatively new
addition to the repertoire is silver studded with semi-precious
stones. Apart from jewellery, youll also find little silver
boxes, statuettes, containers, glasses, plates, bowls, pens, hand
mirrors and gilt combs.
Silver is often alloyed with other metals before being made into
ornaments. So beware of silversmiths who mix more than the required
¤ Gems, Kundan, Meenakari & Jewellery
If you are searching for a quality diamond or emerald Jaipur is just
the place for you. Whats more, if you believe in the occult, you
can even find jyotshis (palmists and astrologers) to dig out your
lucky stone. Theyll tell you precisely the clarity and carats
required to ward off the evil eye or reverse a spell of ill luck.
The Pink City is known for its vast array of precious and
semi-precious stones, running the gamut from diamond, emerald,
sapphire and ruby to topaz, jade, garnet, amethyst and turquoise. The
craft of cutting and polishing stones to achieve the most gleaming
facets has been honed to perfection. Watch the craftsmen at work in
Moving from gems, the next stage is obviously transforming them into
exquisite jewellery. Bengali craftsmen, who settled in Jaipur
centuries ago, are the acknowledged masters. The two special
techniques practised in Jaipur kundan and meenakari are
equally intricate and splendid, and it is impossible to say which
outshines the other.
Kundan is the Mughal-inspired art of setting of stones in gold and
silver. Gems are bedded in a surround of gold leaf rather than secured
by a rim or claw.
Hindu Punjabis brought Meenakari, or the skill of enamelling, from
Lahore to Jaipur. Did you know that enamelling was originally meant to
protect gold, which in its pure state is so soft and malleable that it
can easily wear away? The Mughal fashion was to enamel the reverse
side of jewellery to protect it from contact with the wearers
Enamelling is a champleve technique, which in simple English means
that a recess is hollowed out in the surface of gold or silver to take
in a mineral. For example, cobalt oxide, which gives a blue colour, is
then fired into the depression so as to leave a thin line separating
the segments of colour. You can observe jewellers doing the enamel
work at the Jadiyon ka Rasta in Jaipur. An ornament with both kundan
and meenakari is so astoundingly magnificent that it seems to have
been conjured up by rubbing Aladdins magical lamp.
When buying jewellery or precious stones, be sure to get a receipt
clearly stating the name of the shop, price and carat. Always go to a
trusted, well-reputed jeweller.
¤ Jaipur Miniature Paintings
camel fights; bejewelled women stretching seductively or in various
stages of undress; midnight trysts of the divine lovers Radha and
Krishna; Krishna painting a delicate tattoo on the breast of his
sweetheart, Radha; the blood and gore of a tiger or boar hunt; the
amorous dalliances of Rajput princes and the pomp and ceremony of the
Mughal court - Rajasthani miniatures unabashedly celebrate every
aspect of life. The paintings are a rich reminder of how both the
regal Mughals and the proud Rajputs lived life in bold Technicolor.
A host of schools of miniature painting thrive in Rajasthan and, to a
certain extent, they are a quaint mixture of Mughal and indigenous
Indian styles. The Indian style dates back to the Jain manuscripts of
western India, now preserved in the temples of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
These manuscripts are inscribed on palm leaves and are illustrated
with stylized miniatures, elements of which are obvious in the
miniatures of today. If you examine these miniatures from the 11th
century, youll find that the human forms are far from
proportionate as the figures were squeezed in to fit the long, narrow
format of the leaves. Fortunately with the coming of paper in the 12th
century (thanks to the Arab traders), the miniatures were freed from
Anyway, the long and short of it was that this style merged happily
with the opulent Mughal court style and several distinct schools of
Rajasthan miniatures were born: the Mewar or Udaipur school, the Bundi
school, the Kishangarh school, the Bikaner school, the Jaipur school
and the Alwar school. It seems that every little Rajput fiefdom worth
its name encouraged its own unique style.
The Jaipur school, largely due to Jaipurs friendly alliances
with the Mughals and the patronage of Akbar in the 16th century,
remained rooted in the Mughal style though the artists pushed the
boundaries back to include tales from Hindu epics and the escapades of
Lord Krishna. Over a period, the Jaipur school evolved a distinctive
Rajasthani style which retained the Mughal penchant for restrained
colour and a sense of place in the background.
In the back streets of the Pink City, youll find Brahmin artists
working on a variety of materials from handmade paper and boards of
wood to ivory and marble. Most of them still use natural colours
derived from insects, shells, minerals, vegetable matter as well as
silver and gold. Using the finest squirrel hairbrushes, it takes a
miniaturist weeks to complete a commission. Their lack of originality
most of them merely replicate the work of their forefathers
is more than compensated for by their breathtakingly precise and
detailed workmanship. Sadly, some of the more sales oriented artists
have now switched to cheaper chemical colours to satisfy the demand of
Miniature paintings were once made on a base of ivory but thats
all in the past. The use of ivory has been banned now in the interests
of our wildlife. So dont get conned into buying an ivory
painting or artefact.
¤ Jaipur Blue Pottery
art of making blue glaze pottery came to Rajasthan via Kashmir, the
Mughal emperors favourite retreat and, more importantly, their
entry point into India. The use of blue glaze on pottery made from
Multani mitti, or Fullers earth, is essentially an imported
technique, first developed by enterprising Mongol artisans who
combined Chinese glazing technology with Persian decorative arts. This
technique travelled south to India with early Muslim potentates in the
14th century. During its infancy, it was strictly used to make tiles
to decorate mosques, tombs and palaces in Central Asia.
Later, the Mughals began using them in India, in a bid to mimic their
beloved structures from beyond the mountains in Samarkand.
Gradually the blue glaze technique broke free of its status as an
architectural accessory, and Kashmiri potters took to it with a
vengeance. From there, the technique rolled down to the plains of
Delhi and in the 17th century wound its way to Jaipur. The rulers of
Jaipur were exceptionally partial to blue-glazed ware, and many a cool
marble hall in Rambagh Palace has as its centrepiece a bubbling
fountain lined with ravishing blue tiles. These tiles were also used
extensively in the building of the splendid city of Jaipur but
surprisingly, they disappeared soon after.
The revival of tile-making began in the late 19th century, and Jaipur
became the centre of a thriving new industry producing blueware. The
traditional Persian designs have now been adapted to please a more
sophisticated clientele. Apart from the predictable urns, jars, pots
and vases, youll now find tea sets, cups and saucers, plates and
glasses, jugs, ashtrays and even napkin rings. You can spot blue
pottery being made at Sanganer, not far from Jaipur, and also within
the city at Kripal Kumbh, Shiva Marg.
The colour palette is restricted to blue derived from the oxide of
cobalt, green from the oxide of copper and white, though other
non-conventional colours such as yellow and brown have jumped into the
¤ 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 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 banned.
¤ Shellac Bric-a-Brac
Brightly coloured lac bangles, handmirrors, pens, pillboxes and
agarbatti (incense) stands are a cheerful and inexpensive buy in
Rajasthan. In the pink city of Jaipur, lac trinkets are a common sight
in every bazaar. Check out the dazzling bangles, often studded with
glass gems, spirals of base-metal wire amid a wavy striping of other
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 do 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