Crafts of Himachal Pradesh

 

 

Jewelry

The silver jewelry of Himachal Pradesh is one of the oldest handicrafts in the State. The silversmiths scattered in various parts of the State all recount how Sita, the wife of Lord Rama, wore silver jewelry designed and crafted by their ancestors in the days of yore. Carrying on this long tradition, these silversmiths continue to produce articles of utility-engraved silver teapots, glasses, lamp stands, fruit trays, and more.

Woodcarving

Woodcarving is yet another noteworthy old craft of this hill State. In fact, most of the wooden homesteads here display excellent standards in woodcarving. Carved wall panels, doors and window ledges are very common. Today, the woodcarvers are mainly concentrated in the Kangra Valley, around Palampur, and use the wood of walnut and birch trees as the medium for carving a range of items such as trays, fruit bowls, mythological figures, pens and their stands. Bamboo and wickerwork is also popular folk craft. The locals are adept at making baskets, containers, trays and bowls in various shapes and sizes.

 

Leather Craft

Himachal Pradesh is also known for its leather chappals (flat, open shoes) and belts. Chamba chappals with their open toes and partially woven 'vamps' catch even the most unobservant eye. Besides their aesthetic appeal, they are light and comfortable.

All over the higher reaches of Himachal Pradesh, straw, and treated bark shoes or pullas, used for walking on snow, are an unusual sight for strangers from the plains. The straw or bark, in natural fawn and beige shades, interspersed with dyed bright reds, magentas and blues, is tightly woven to make them in different sizes. Each pulla is made in one piece with its bark sole providing excellent grip on snow.

Architecture

The valleys of the Western Himalayas like Chamba, Kulu, Mandi, and Kangra, which till recently were rather inaccessible have preserved vestiges of ancient and later civilisations from the Kushan and Gupta times, to the late 18th and early 19th century art of Kangra. In Chamba, one comes across wood beam temples with rich wooden reliefs, and brass and stone statues, which date back to the period of Ajanta and Ellora. In Kulu, there are well-preserved 7th and 8th century Shiva temples. The strikingly powerful stone sculptures in Gupta style can be found at Bajaura, Naggar, Dashal, and Jagat Sukh.

Of these Gupta style stone temples, the Basheshar Mahadev temple at Bajaura is the best preserved. Situated about 16 kilometers from Sultanpur, Kulu on the Mandi-Kulu motor road, the temple has no plinth, the main structure rising from the ground level itself. The entrance to the inner sanctum is guarded by two elaborately carved sculptures of Ganga and Yamuna.

The Shiva temple at Naggar is no different except that here one comes across a sculpture of Shiva and Parvati instead of the linga, which is something uncommon. The temples at Dashal, Jagat Sukh, and Thawa also conform to the style of the temple at Bajaura, although they seem much older. Folk and primitive motifs are used extensively in them.

In Kulu, the rectangular stone and wood temples, furnished with a pent roof and veranda are a class by themselves. The walls are built of alternate courses of stones and deodar beams. The Naggar castle is an example of this style of architecture and there are two important temples belonging to this class: the Bijli Mahadev and Sandhya Devi temples. The former has fancifully carved wooden uprights that join on the roof and a good deal of open carvings surround the arched windows in the fretted veranda.

The Sandhya Devi temple is built on the structure of an old temple that dates to the 8th century. This is testified by the fact that the lower part has stone carvings quite different from the upper woodcarvings done in primitive style. The wooden part completely encases the original structure and this was done in the year 1428 AD according to an inscription on the temple. The present structure with Mughal pillars and woodcarvings seems to have been built later.

Another important style in which the Kulu temples were built can be seen at the Tripur Sundari temple in Naggar and the Hidamba Devi temple at Dhungri, Manali. These are pyramidal structures with tiered roofs, generally three, four, or five in number and superimposed one above the other, diminishing in size towards the top. The Hidamba Devi temple is an interesting study from the point of view of woodcarvings. The temple was built in 1553 AD by Raja Budh Singh.

The old Kulu houses which are still extant on the left bank of the Beas-in Naggar, Haripur, Jagat Sukh, and Vashisht-with their overhanging balconies going round the entire first floor of the building and sloping slate roofs, are structures of remarkable beauty. The railings, brackets, and pillars are artistically cut and the wooden windowpanes decorated with carvings. The entrance doors and the ventilators above them also have carvings of fine workmanship. Even the carved wooden household articles used by the people of Kulu are genuine objects d'art.

Kangra Paintings

The paintings of the Guler-Kangra school, are the most splendid specimens of Pahari miniature paintings. Refined in outlines and replete with rare sensuousness, these miniatures are a fitting climax to a painting tradition in the northern hill state, which imbibed foreign influences on the fabric of a local style.

The Guler style emerged with the Ramayana and Bhagwata Purana paintings. Romantic naturalism sensuous colors, beauty of the female form and a striking spontaneity characterized the Guler style. Natural elements were a conspicuous part of the composition. Big trees of the Guler region, swaying plantain leaves, pointed cypresses and an undulating hill came to be identified with this particular style. Also, dark clouds pierced by serpent-like lightning and skeins of white cranes were the Guler symbols of desire.

The Guler-Kangra paintings are mostly illustrations of Krishna-Radha legends, absorbing within its divine framework the aspirations of human lovers.

Apart from devotional themes, Kangra paintings specialise in portraying women drawn after the masterly classification of nayikas by Keshavdas in Rasik Priya.

Paintings of the seasons and each month of the year were also drawn with a rare feeling for the changing landscape, flowers, birds, and life around the lovers. The ragmalas (musical modes) had a limited patronage in Kangra but are still known for their tranquil depiction of ragas and raginis.

Technically, Guler-Kangra paintings show a great sophistication of composition. Multi-figure composition is handled with élan. Rarely has any other art combined so little fear with so much tenderness, so much delight with such complete renunciation.


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