When it comes to Jaipur arts and crafts, Rajasthan is resplendently outstanding preserving its rich cultural heritage in its magnificent art and craft work. Rajasthan tourism highlights the world renowned art and craft of bandhani or tie and dye work , block-printing, jewellery and much more.

India - Rajasthan - Jaipur - Art and Craft in Jaipur

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 won’t 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.

Block PrintingThe 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 markets.

Tie and dye cloth is never too expensive but be warned that the colours always run. So if you’ve bought silk, it’s safer to get it dry-cleaned.

¤ Block-printing

Rajasthan has a long and distinguished traditon of printing with finely carved wooden blocks. What you might have already seen in Delhi’s 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 isn’t 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 Jaipur’s 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. It’s 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.

¤ Tarkashi

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 sale.

TarkashiDon’t get confused this tarkashi is different from that of Bengal, where it signifies filigree.

¤ 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 bride’s 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 family’s 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.

Silver JewelleryIn Jaipur, you’ll 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, you’ll 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 amount.

¤ Gems, Kundan, Meenakari & Jewellery

If you are searching for a quality diamond or emerald Jaipur is just the place for you. What’s more, if you believe in the occult, you can even find jyotshis (palmists and astrologers) to dig out your lucky stone. They’ll 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 Johari Bazaar.

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 wearer’s skin.

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 Aladdin’s 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

Jaipur Miniature PaintingsFierce 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, you’ll 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 this constraint.

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 Jaipur’s 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, you’ll 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 tourists.

Miniature paintings were once made on a base of ivory but that’s all in the past. The use of ivory has been banned now in the interests of our wildlife. So don’t get conned into buying an ivory painting or artefact.

¤ Jaipur Blue Pottery

Jaipur Blue Pottery The 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 Fuller’s 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, you’ll 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 fray too.

¤ 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 colours.

¤ Leatherware

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 bottles.

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