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.
1. Indian textiles
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".
Between the 17th and 18th centuries, the Coromandel Coast was one of the main producers and exporters of cotton textiles to Western Europe. Soon these textiles became fashionable and were widely seen in European homes.
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 with intricate designs, made using pure wool or silk, and require a huge amount of work. In India, carpet weaving is considered to be a valuable skill that one generation preserves and passes on to the next.
In most cases, Kashmir carpets have a floral design. They may also have other motifs with cultural significance such as the paisley, chinar tree, and the tree of life. The tree of life is a particularly popular motif that deified plants and trees and was inspired by Persian paintings.
Bright colors like blood red, emerald green, deep blue, and ivory are characteristic of Kashmir carpets. Valued for their richness of color and design, they are widely used as wall hangings in homes.
A range of standard sizes such as 2' x 3' ft (60cm x 90cm), 2'7 X 3'11 (80cm x 120cm), and 3' X 6'.10 (93cm X 208cm) are available and larger size can be tailor-made. You will be stunned by their quality and intrinsic beauty!
Pashmina shawls are known for their softness, warmth, and light-weight qualities and are made from pashmina which is a fine type of cashmere wool. These shawls usually come in plain colors or embellished with motifs such as flowers, geometric patterns, and paisley. Contemporary designs even recreate fish-scale patterns in gold and silver threads.
Pashmina shawls can come in different sizes depending on the category. For example, a scarf is often made to be 12 in x 60 in (30 cm x 152 cm), a wrap is often 28 in x 80 in (71 cm x 203 cm), and the full-size covers are 36 in x 80 in (91 cm x 203 cm). Most pashmina fabric is a blend of 70% pashmina wool and 30% other fibers like silk, viscose, or rayon.
A pashmina and silk blend shawl is a wonderful accessory that puts off an air of style and elegance. To take care of your pashmina products, you will need to be careful when cleaning them. Generally, dry cleaning is recommended. If you are washing a pashmina item, it is important to be very gentle and to do it by hand. Always let them dry naturally.
Kalamkari fabric is also known as chintz and can be used as a wall-hanging. This is a type of brightly colored cotton fabric is made by applying a mixture of painting and dyeing techniques.
Fabrics often include designs based on nature and ancient myths with common motifs being gods and goddesses, trees, and birds. These designs are placed on the fabric using natural colors like ochre, indigo, soft pink, and iron black.
Sri Kalahasti and Machilipatnam are the two distinctive styles of Kalamkari. Sri Kalahasti style began as part of a temple ritual and predominantly depicts mythological themes showcasing gods, goddesses, and other celestial beings. Machilipatnam style displays a distinct Persian influence and has a history of being traded to Europe dating back to the 17th century.
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.
2. Indian paintings
In India, painting began as a method of worship centered on the Hindu sacred texts. Today modern and traditional paintings are popular all over the country and many cities such as Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur have shops where painters work all day to recreate ancient miniatures.
Nowadays it is common to use poster colors instead of natural pigments but the themes and motifs are still traditional and mostly consist of court scenes, religious themes, and mythological stories.
Rajasthani Miniature Paintings
Initially, bold lines and bright primary colors were used to depict religious themes from Jain and Hindu sacred texts.
After the 17th century, a greater delicacy of lines and a wider range of colors and themes were brought into Rajasthani art. This happened through the influence of the more sophisticated Persian art which is flourished during Mughal rule in the region.
By the 18th century, many princely states in Rajasthan such as Mewar, Bundi, and Kota had developed their own distinctive styles of miniature paintings.
Mewar paintings mainly depict festivals, grand processions, and historic battles while Bundi paintings specialized in palace life with vivid scenes in royal halls, courtyards, and galleries. Kota paintings are renowned for hunting scenes set in dramatic forested landscapes.
Rajasthani Miniature Paintings
Without a doubt, Warli painting is one of the most famous art styles in India. This tribal art form was born in the state of Maharashtra and mainly revolves around elements of nature including motifs of the sun, the moon, mountains, rivers, and trees.
Animals and the wilderness are common themes and these paintings often portray farming, hunting, and fishing. In festivals scenes, a rich variety of rituals and vibrant arts and traditions can be seen.
For example, some paintings may depict the tarpa style of dance in which a group of dancers move around in circles and are accompanied by men playing the tarpa, a trumpet-like instrument.
Today, it is common to see Warli painting used to decorate homes or as a pattern on the fabric of a dress. Warli art is added to fabrics by using natural pigments made from red ochre or rice paste.
Madhubani is an art form practiced in the Mithila region and it is a style of painting done with fingers, twigs, brushes, matchsticks. Traditionally, Madhubani is painted on floors of huts and plastered mud walls, but recently its designs have become popular and can be seen on cloth, paper, and canvas.
Madhubani uses only natural dyes and pigments and every painting is characterized by strong geometric patterns. The content can be adapted to a particular occasion such as birth, marriage, or festivals. Some designs may also depict scenes from the royal court or deities from the ancient stories.
In most families of the Mithila region, the skills of Madhubani continue to flourish and are mostly learned and passed down by women.
3. 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.
The wood has to be seasoned, cut, and then carved
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.
4. Indian stoneware
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.
Decorated Ceramic Bowls And Plates
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.
5. Indian metalware
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.
6. 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.
Sandalwood paste extraction
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.
Herbal soaps are eco-friendly and manufactured from natural ingredients such as herbs, food-grade vegetable oils, essential oils, and other natural extracts. The most common herbs used in Indian soaps are comfrey, hyssop, rosemary, jasmine, and sandalwood.
Organic olive, coconut, palm, castor, jojoba, wheat germ, and almond oils are widely used as the base oil with the addition of shea butter, cocoa butter, aloe vera, and vitamin e. By using natural ingredients, herbal soaps provide the best skin treatment, especially when it comes to healing and moisturizing.
When purchasing herbal soaps, remember to check the ingredients as some soaps may look herbal but include manufactured scented oil. The best soaps will use essential oils that are extracted from plants.
A moisturizing herbal soap is always a good choice for a souvenir. Some of the best Indian soaps are Vaadi Herbals Lavish Almond Soap, Khadi Neem Tulsi Soap, and Himalaya Herbals Almond & Rose Soap.
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.
Explore India with Asia Highlights
Besides the cultural experience, visiting India is also an opportunity to bring home some unique souvenirs that will give a beautiful twist to your house decor. Don't wait any longer and book your next trip to India! Our experienced staff will take care of everything, ensuring you and your family a hassle-free vacation.
Our staff will take care of everything, ensuring you and your family a hassle-free adventure that you will never forget.