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  • Lasya GP

14 Popular Handicrafts of India: The Soul of Indian Culture

Most Indian handicrafts we know of today have been alive since the dawn of Indian civilization. Evidence has been found during excavations that proves the claim.


A major reason why they may have survived the test of time could be due to their utilitarian along with decorative properties.


Although these crafts have been passed on from father to son, most of them need the government's support and people's attention for survival.


Pottery of India and Wood craft of India
Pottery and Wood craft of India

Pottery


Clay was one of the earliest mediums used by the Indians to make several household objects. These objects were used both for decorative and practical purposes.


The story of Indian pottery dates back to as early as the Indus valley civilization in 3300 BC. While some wares were used to store seals, water, and grains, others were used for aesthetic and religious purposes.


More advanced clay ware began to be made with the advent of the potter's wheel. Eventually, Indian pottery started to cover the rich genre of terracotta and ceramic arts as well.


India still accommodates millions of potters in various parts of the country. Pottery defines a community's identity, status, and cultural heritage in India even today.


Some popular clay crafts in India include the Malwa wares (Central India), blue pottery (Delhi and Jaipur), Bidriware (Karnataka), terracotta pottery (West Bengal), etc. Colorful clay figures of deities are still being made almost everywhere in India today.


Woodwork


Woodcraft is being practiced in India since ancient times. Wood was structured into decorative, religious, and functional items like palanquins, temple cars, and more for temples and palaces.


Since then, carpenters and carvers across India developed their unique styles depending on the availability of resources.


Indian woodwork industry is still flourishing today as toys, utensils, furniture, etc. are being crafted and exported all over the globe.


Some states well-known for woodcraft are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bengal, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kashmir, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh.


Stone Work at Konark (Orissa) and Metal Craft of India
Stone Work at Konark (Orissa) and Metal Craft of India

Stonework


Excavations revealed that stonework existed 3000 years ago in India. Initially, stones were carved into weapons like hammers, arrowheads, spearheads, etc. However, with time stonework evolved into a precious form of Indian art.


Carvings at Sanchi are the earliest examples of stone carving. The temples of Ellora, Konark, Khajuraho, Mahabalipuram, Srirangam, Chidambaram, Kanchipuram, Madurai, Tanjore, etc, boast intricately carved sculptures and murals. The gigantic Dilwara, Rameshwaram, and Tirupati temple complexes demonstrate the expertise and sophistication of the stone carvers of those times.


Many Buddhist and Jain sculptures were built with stones without worrying about their massive form. The Amaravati Stupa (Andhra Pradesh) is a perfect specimen of the artisans' great devotion and craftsmanship.


States, where more such epic stone crafts can be found, are Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu.


Metalwork


Like pottery, India is home to metalwork and molding since the Indus Valley Civilization. The famous 'Dancing Girl' bronze sculpture found at one of the IVC sites proves the claim. The Dancing Girl sculpture was made by a lost-wax casting method, which is still being practiced in India as the Dhokra art (in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal).


Some ancient Indian texts also talk about the procedure behind bronze casting. Today, the Indian bronze craft is being practiced to make icons of Hindu deities and items for their worship.


India is also best known for its brass and copperware for both decorative and practical use. Indian brassware is one of the most sought-after metal crafts that are being exported to the USA, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, UAE, and many new emerging markets.


Bamboo Crafts of India and Enamel Meenakari of India
Bamboo Crafts and Enamel Meenakari of India

Bamboo and cane crafts


Everyone loves bamboo as it is the most eco-friendly material found on earth. Bamboo craft in India is huge with products ranging from baskets, toys, mats, wall decor, furniture, shopping bags, fans, jewelry boxes...you name it!


Such bamboo crafts are predominantly made in West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Moreover, bamboo and cane crafts are also an essential source of artistic expression as well as livelihood for many local communities in India.


Ivory, bone, and horn carving


Ivory carving is an ancient art form in India that existed as a creative and religious expression for centuries. Apart from Indian spices and muslin, ivory items were in great demand amongst the Indian rulers and the elite class.


Most ivory products include containers, grooming items, jewelry, gaming pieces, human and animal figures, and writing and musical instruments. Ivory has also been used extensively to carve out religious icons from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity.


Indian ivory craft has a rich and elaborate history. But due to the ban on the ivory trade under the Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act in 1972, ivory craft-making slowed down.


Murshidabad (West Bengal), Delhi, Orissa, Gujarat, Mysore (Karnataka), Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh), and Travancore (Kerala) were once vital centers of ivory craft production. Many of such ivory items are in danger of perishing today.


Some valuable specimens of this craft are now under the care of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Royal Collection (London), and Archaeological Museum of Naples, among others.


Enameling


Enameling or Meenakari is a craft that entered the Indian subcontinent in the 1500s with the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Meenakari is still in demand mainly as exquisite jewelry pieces, lighting, tables, stools, wall pendants, paintings, and sculptures.


Enameling is done by fusing finely ground glass onto metal at high heat. The vibrant colors are achieved by using various oxides. Completing enameling on a single piece depends on its size and can take up to a year.


Small ornaments such as an earring set can start from Rs 200. While more detailed work on jewelry and other items can cost up to 10 lakhs. Meenakari work is known for its non-fading vivid colors, durability, and modern aesthetics.


Most popular Meenakari work comes from Rajasthan and Delhi, done on jewelry made with gold, precious and semi-precious stones. The most common colors used are red, blue, green, and white, while popular motifs include paisley, vines, flowers, calligraphy, and more. However, despite its artistic legacy of 2000 years, the artform still needs support from art lovers, buyers, and the government.


Jewelry of India and Traditional Toys of India
Jewelry and Traditional Toys of India

Jewelry


India is known for its magnificent collection of jewelry. Jewelry is an indispensable part of Indian culture and traditions. Also, jewelry made of precious metals and stones acts as a crucial investment for security and prosperity in most Indian households.


On close observation, the importance given to different ornaments differs by region in India as per their traditional attire. For instance, Kashmir, Punjab, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, and various South Indian states adorn jewelry differently according to their own traditions. Even the designs and details vary with various indigenous groups, communities, and tribes.


Toys


The legacy of toy-making in India dates back to Indus Valley Civilization. Excavations revealed several terracotta toys such as carts, human statuettes, and animal figures at IVC sites of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.


More importantly, toys of India are not just used for leisure. They are also used to tell stories of cultural importance and improve brain activity and physical coordination.


Some of these toys are also a part of the great Indian epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Some major states that produce traditional toys today include Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Rajasthan, Assam, and Bihar.


Traditional Textiles of India and Carpet Weaving of India
Traditional Textiles and Carpet Weaving of India

Textiles


India cannot be imagined without its rich heritage of textile making. It is home to a diverse variety of cotton and silk textiles produced in numerous styles across India.


Not only do they satiate the need for clothing in India but are also exported around the world. Indian textiles vary widely in weaves, prints, and embroidery work from region to region.


Textile production is predominant in the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Kashmir. Gujarat and Rajasthan are famous for their tie-dye varieties. Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Odisha, and Karnataka are well-known for folk embroideries. Whereas Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, and Tripura are popular for woolen weaves.


Jute craft


India has always been associated with its wide range of sustainable jute handicrafts. They are extremely affordable, maintenance-friendly, 100% recyclable, and biodegradable. Not only that, earnings from jute products feed many rural households in India today.


The range of jute products in India can extend beyond imagination. However, some common jute crafts you will find are handbags, gunny bags, mats, coasters, footwear, office stationeries, jewelry, and home decor.


Although Madhya Pradesh, Pondicherry, West Bengal, Assam, and Bihar are the leading jute craft producers, jute products are commonly available in many parts of the country. They are in great demand in the domestic markets but cater to international markets as well.


Carpet weaving


India gained its carpet weaving expertise from Persia, China, and Afghanistan. What came with the Mughals has now become the most popular market compared to other Indian handicrafts.


Today, Indian carpets are viral across international markets. Indian weavers can produce carpets in numerous colors and patterns. They weave carpets in a wide range of qualities according to the needs of their international buyers including the European and the U.S. market.


With years of practice, Indian carpet weavers have learned to produce carpets in very less time. While most carpets are made from silk and wool, other floorings like mats are made from cotton, jute, wool, coir, grass, and bamboo too.


Some major centers of Indian carpets exist in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Kashmir. Currently, Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of carpet weaving centers.


Leather Craft of India and Shell Craft of India
Leather Craft and Shell Craft of India

Leathercraft


Indian leathercraft is carefully designed for aesthetic appeal and durability. Like many other craft forms, leatherwork has existed in India since the Indus Valley Civilization.


While ascetics and sages used deerskin for meditation, emperors and the elite used leather for clothing, footwear, shields, and more. Today, leather products include clothes, footwear, caps, pouches, bags, wallets, saddles, lamps, lampshades, musical instruments, puppets, showpieces, toys, etc.


Major centers of leathercraft exist in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.


Shell craft


Seashells' are gifts of nature found in abundance at seashores. Dwellers of such regions eventually became experts in shell craft through constant innovation and practice.


Shell crafts today include several decorative items such as boxes, mirror frames, photo frames, jewelry, figurines, key chains, pot hangers, wall decor, cutlery, curtains, chandeliers, etc. In some regions, shell craft also carries social and religious significance.


Conch shells are considered sacred in some Indian households that are blown during religious ceremonies. The sound produced is said to ward off evil energy.


You will always find fascinating shell crafts in regions around coastal areas. Shell craft of India will surely add elegance and excitement to your homes and attires without being heavy on your pocket.


Final thoughts


The list of Indian handicrafts is endless. The colossal variety of Indian handicrafts expresses all of India's history over thousands of years.


Thus, no matter how much one has seen and collected over the years, one lifetime can never be enough to experience all of the Indian handicrafts.


So, get your hands on as many as you can. Indian handicrafts are well-designed not only to fulfill your aesthetic needs but also your utilitarian demands in the best way possible.


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