Indian Arts and Handicrafts
Indian crafts are extremely old, and the fact that they are still preserved today is just proof of their quality and importance. They manifest India’s rich culture and tradition, and each craft is like a mirror reflecting the identity of the tribe that created it and still manufactures it today.
Some of the most important products are the textiles, with high-quality products like pashminas and Kashmir rugs; wood products, and metalware – with a unique and extremely rich tradition that will delight any fan of good-quality crafts.
Keep reading to learn more about Indian arts and handicrafts!
- Enjoying the handicrafts of India is a unique way to enjoy its complex culture and many traditions
- Among the textiles of India, Kashmir rugs are probably the most known
- Traditional Indian painting has inspired thousands of contemporary artists and designers
- Metalware, especially Bidriware, is one of the most famous traditional handicrafts
- Wooden toys are some unique gifts to bring back to your family and friends
Arts and handicrafts in India
Art refers to human creation that is appealing to the finer senses of the individual; while a craft is a skill, especially involving performing arts. When it comes to India, there is an abundance of both. Arts and crafts in India – as everywhere else – define the cultural layers of the country, community, and race. India is famously a multicultural nation, and thus it has a huge variety of different traditions.
Each corner of the subcontinents has an abundance of varied arts and crafts. When we talk about means of expressions, terracotta is one of the most popular options among Indian artisans. The use of terracotta began about 5000 years ago and the many pieces are a testimony of excellent craftsmanship.
Jute is another important material used to create artistic items in India. It is possible to find jute’s products in every Indian house, from potholders to mobile holders, from low stools to little dolls. It is a material that is able to define both aristocracy and ethnicity.
Right after jute items, there are bamboo and cane ones. During your trip, you will find a huge variety of fruit baskets, flower baskets, and showpieces that you can buy to decorate your house.
India was one of the first countries in the world to start producing textiles, and such product was so central to its culture that in ancient Greece the word “India” indicated “cotton”.
Nowadays, it is possible to buy a stunning choice of silk and cotton weaved textiles and good brocade – you can buy them by the meter or as ready-made garments. Some selected stores also have a wide selection of good-quality paisley jamavar and pashmina shawls.
Besides the most popular textiles just mentioned, there are three products that are truly unique, and that you won’t likely find outside India.
Kashmir carpets may be the most famous carpets in the world. They are hand knitted and require a huge amount of work. In most cases, they have a floral design, also other motifs are possible. Carpet weaving is a valuable skill that one generation preserves and passes onto the next person.
You will be stunned by their quality and intrinsic beauty!.
Pattachitra is one of the main traditional art forms of the Indian subcontinent. A pattachitra is a large piece of cloth that have numerous mythological and religious figures, depicting stories from Hindu mythology.
This unique work of art is mainly prepared by the artisans known as chitrakars, who still live in their home villages and helped by the whole family. The vibrant colors are the most striking feature of any pattachitra.
Originated in the western parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Punjab, bandhani is one of the most art forms of India. It is a tie and dye textile decoration that is popular all over the country and, according to many, it can be dated back to the Indus Valley Civilization.
Bandhani is extremely colorful, a quality obtained using only natural methods.
Paintings are popular all over the country, and many places, especially Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur in Rajasthan, have shops where many painters work all day to recreate ancient miniatures.
Nowadays it is common to use poster colors instead of natural pigments, but the themes and the motifs are still traditional – mostly court scenes, religious and mythological stories.
Without any doubt, one of the most famous artworks of India. This tribal art form was born in the state of Maharashtra, and it mainly revolves around mother nature, animals and the wilderness.
Nowadays, it is common to see Warli painting used to decorate a house or to create a pattern for a dress.
Madhubani is an art form practiced in the Mithila region, and it is a kind of painting done with fingers, twigs, brushes, and matchsticks.
It uses only natural dyes and pigment, and every painting is characterized by strong geometrical patterns. The content can be adapted to a particular occasion, such as birth, marriage, and festivals.
Indian bamboo and cane products
The northeastern states are widely known for their bamboo and cane products. They create objects for everyday use – like baskets for tea pickers, hats, etc. – as well as a variety of boxes, trays, baskets, and containers. Of course, they also produce excellent furniture, to be sold both locally and internationally.
Creating this handicraft requires a great deal of knowledge and manual skills.
Channapatna toys were first created in the Karnataka state. It is truly a unique object that everyone will love. They are so unique that they are protected as a geographical indication under the World Trade Organization.
Traditionally, only ivory wood was used, but nowadays also rubber, sycamore, cedar, teak, and pine are used. The wood has to be seasoned, cut, and then carved. For the coloring process, only vegetable dyes are used, and so all these toys are completely safe for children.
These toys are made only in the Nirmal town. Nirmal art is 400 years old, and with time it has become a rich tradition that includes wooden toys, paintings, and furniture.
Nirmal toys are made of finely carved wood and painted with special colors that give the toys their characteristically vibrant look.
Indian herbal and beauty products
When we talk about herbal products, we talk about Ayurveda, the science of life and holistic well-being. It is a system of herbs, oils, and plants that originated in India about 6000 years ago. Harmony is the fundamental concept of Ayurveda.
Nowadays, traditional herbal remedies have been re-invented to adapt modern-day needs. Aromatherapy is highly popular, and Ayurvedic cosmetics are widely consumed around the country.
Ayurvedic cosmetics are based on medical plants, but they are more than a simple blend of herbs. Each product is designed to balance all the systems of the body and to guarantee well-being. Leaves, fruit, stems, bark, roots, seeds are some of the key ingredients of these cosmetics.
When you buy one of these products, you can be sure that all the ingredients are natural and that there are no synthetic colorants, fragrances or preservatives.
Aromatherapy products from Auroville
If you like aromatherapy candles, we strongly recommend you to buy them from Auroville, an Indian town where people have been producing herbal products for the past 50 years.
There are many different shops, like Maroma, selling a wide range of home fragrances and body care products, like aromatherapy salts, incense, body spray, etc.
India is the greatest producer of incense sticks in the world. Usually, incense sticks are made with bamboo, paste (made with wood powder and joss), and the perfume ingredients.
Sticks can be produced by hand or using a machine. The main manufacture center is the state of Karnataka, especially in the cities of Bangalore and Mysore.
Pietra dura, known as parchinkari in the Indian subcontinent, indicates the inlay technique of using cut and fitted stones in order to create images. After the work is assembled, the stonework is glued stone-by-stone. Stability is obtained by grooving the undersides of the stones so that they can interlock.
Marbles, semiprecious and precious stones are used. The technique first appeared in Rome during the 16th century, and the most notable example to be found in India is the Taj Mahal.
Plates and boxes
It is not common to find pietra dura in jewelry, and Circa jewelry is one of the few places where you can find it.
However, it is more common to find plates and boxes, made especially in Agra. These products are of the highest quality, and often employ floral patterns from the Taj Mahal. They are extremely complex to make, as some of them have between 5.000-20.000 semiprecious stones individually cut and inlaid.
The techniques used to work the metal are millenarian, and most of them are still used in the town of Bidar, Pembarthi, and Kamrup. Producing metalware is a laborious task, that requires a lot of skill and patience.
This metal craft from Bidar was developed during the 14th century, and nowadays the city of Bidar is still the center for the manufacture of bidriware. It is one of the most important export handicrafts of India, and it represents a kind of status symbol.
The metal used for bidriware is a blackened alloy of zinc and copper, with the addition of thin layers of pure silver. In order to create bidriware, an eight-stage process is necessary: molding, smothering, designing, engraving, pure silver inlaying, additional smoothening, buffing and, finally, oxidizing.
Pembarthi metal craft
Pembarthi is a small village in the state of Telangana, and it is popular for its production of sheet metal artworks of extremely high quality. This kind of brass work developed during the empire of the Kakatiyas, who used sheet metal art to adorn their temples.
Nowadays, Pembarthi is a must visit for all the lovers of arts and crafts.
Dhokra is a non-ferrous metal casting using the technique of lost-wax casting, a technique used in India for more than 4,000 years. The product of dhokra artisans are known for their simplicity and folk motifs, the horse, elephants, measuring bowls, and religious images are extremely treasured.
Kamrupi produces some brass and bell metal products that are famous all over the country for their exquisite form and utility. Some of the main items produced by this industry are water pots, dishes, bowls, and cymbals.
If you are in Guwahati, you can visit the State Museum with its extremely rich collection of items made of gold, silver, and copper.
Tips for picking souvenirs
To find these souvenirs, check out the department stores in the bigger cities, or the boutiques, and the souvenir shops located inside most 5-star hotels. If you particularly like an item and really wish to bring back the highest quality, visit the production center – for example, it would be Auroville for aromatherapy products; or Bidar for bidriware.
All the stores accept rupee and major international credit cards, such as MasterCard and Visa. However, we strongly recommend you to carry some cash when shopping at smaller shops or in the bazaars.
Take note that vendors have an “Indian price” and a “tourist price”, with the latter being higher. If you see something you like, don’t rush and buy it from the first stall, move on and keep looking. Another general rule is not to pay more than half of the initial asking price, and never reveal how much you are interested in an item.
Beware of touts, who are willing to do anything to make a quick buck. The best way to deal with them is to ignore them and do a little bit of research about the place you are visiting, so you know where they usually are and how they behave.
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