Crafts of Himachal Pradesh

 

 

Throughout the year in the hilly regions of picturesque Himachal Pradesh, there takes place non stop activities of making several handicrafts. In beautiful valleys and among high rugged mountains, the people of Himachal practice their age-old skills. In many cases, it takes months of patient work before a crafted article of rare workmanship is ready to be revealed for public appraisal. The range of crafts in Himachal is vast and shows many facets of artistic dexterity. The crafts include textiles, woodcarving, architecture, and paintings. It is amazing to see how these hilly people developed such great tradition of artistic excellence despite their tough life.

Textile

Exquisite examples of needle painting, the rumals (large handkerchiefs) of Chamba have long been famous for their unusual beauty, and as symbols and omens of goodwill. Weddings in the hills and valleys around Chamba are still not complete without an exchange of Chamba rumals.

Originally, the hill women in and around Chamba embroidered the silk rumals with folk motifs. In time, they were influenced by the Pahari School of painting, which developed after Mughal miniature paintings came into vogue. Gradually, the Chamba rumals were transformed into works of art.

Episodes from mythology and legends were embroidered on the rumals with stunning effects. The facial expressions of the characters, their lithe body movements, and scenic detail were brought to life on the rumal through remarkable skill at embroidery and an unerring feel for colors.

The woolen shawls and pattus of Kulu are no less striking. The location matters little, whether situated in the valley itself, or nestling against the contours of the mountainside, virtually every homestead in Kulu has a handloom which remains particularly busy during the winter months. With less work in the terraced fields, the women devote themselves to weaving the traditional Kulu shawls. The woolen yarn for the center spread of the shawl is natural white or cream, while the borders have geometric or floral designs woven in brightly colored woolen yarn.

While some families in Kulu rely on their own herds of sheep for the wool, the majority purchase the raw wool from the gaddis (nomadic shepherds) when they pass through Kulu in summer on their way to the high pastures near the Rohtang Pass, or when they pass downwards on their return journey.

The more enterprising weavers in Kulu valley and elsewhere in the State have lately started devoting themselves exclusively to produce gudmas (soft but heavy woolen blankets, generally with red and black trimmings), thobis (floor coverings) and kharchas (mattresses). While the gudmas are made from the soft fleece of sheep, thobis and kharchas are spun from goats' hair. The production of numdhas, made by felting wool and then embroidering it, has taken an upward swing in recent years. This diversification of skills is, in a way, a tribute to the free ranging spirit of the Himachali craftsmen. Faithful to the core, they refuse to give up ancestral traditions, design and skills, but they are consciously seeking avenues which will allow them to preserve their heritage as well as cater to the needs of modern buyers. For example, the handful of stone carvers in Kangra who once specialised in intricate, yet massive, temple carvings, have now turned to carving miniature mythological figures in stone.

Carpet Making

Many of the crafts in this State, while retaining their quintessential traditional flavour, are now reaching out to a cross section of potential buyers. Attractive carpets, woven once upon a time only for personal use, are now finding a wide market. In Sirmour district particularly, a number of Tibetan families have, over the years, been weaving carpets in bold colours and designs. But the beautiful small carpets woven for use as saddlecloth for horses can rarely be purchased in the market. Similarly, the small, soft rugs in bright hues that decorate the corner of many a homestead in the hills of Himachal are seldom produced for sale.

Himachali Dolls

The skills of weaving and embroidery have been given a new dimension in Himachal Pradesh. They have been combined to create traditional outfits for well-crafted dolls known as Himachali dolls. The dolls dressed in Himachal style, complete with headscarves and adorned with traditional jewelry of the State, are almost perfect replicas of the women here. Regional variations are also captured in dress and jewelry. For instance, some of them are dressed as Kulu women wearing pattus while others represent gaddis (sheep rearing nomads).


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