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"The people of Himachal Pradesh practice their age-old skills of handicrafts even today and come up with some of the best pieces of art and craft that have gained worldwide recognition. Even a small object of art takes months of meticulous devotion and dedication to get completed."
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Arts & Craft

Jewellery Work, Himachal Pradesh
Jewellery Work, Himachal Pradesh

The arts and crafts of any region are a reflection of its environment, people and traditions. So it is in Himachal. Weaving, as carving , painting, or chiselling – are such an intrinsic part of the Himachal life! The scenic beauty of the region transfers into the creations, as it were, and the result is colourful pashminas, exquisite wooden doors, rhythmic sculptures. From the upper reaches of Lahaul and Spiti down to the lowlands of Kangra – life and its shades are woven in, painted on, felt in soulful rhythms or celebrated with joyous abandon, carved in, engraved… whether it is the miniature paintings of Kangra, the thangka artefacts of Spiti, or the beautiful shawls of Kullu. As you move through the state, an enchanting and colourful tapestry unfolds – the architecture, objects, shops, museums, galleries and craftsmen charm with the variety and mastermanship perfected through the ages. If you happen to be in Kangra town, walk into the narrow winding lane called Kumhar Gali, linked to the bazaar leading to the Kangra Devi temple in the heart of the town. You will find a row of double storeyed houses surrounded by large courtyards and entire families bent over potters` wheels, beating the clay or applying a coat to the finished pots.

While women take an active part in pottery, when it comes to carpentry, it is an exclusive male domain. For centuries, wood has been used in Himachal in the construction and ornamentation of temples, homes, idols and so on. The skill is hereditary and is passed on from father to son. The master wood carver of Chamba, Malik Lateef, for example, belongs to a family of traditional carpenters. His father Ali Baksh worked in the courts of the Chamba king and his artefacts are still preserved in the Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba. The districts where you are likely to find the most exquisite woodcraft are Chamba, Kulu, Mandi, Mahasua and Bilaspur

Famous Art & Crafts

Woven Craft

It is the extreme cold winters of Himachal that necessitated wool weaving. Almost every household in Himachal owns a pit-loom and it is not unusual to find men and women spinning yarn on a spindle walking down the roads of Himachali villages. Wool is also regarded as pure and is used as a ritual cloth. The best-known woven object is the shawl, ranging from extremely fine pashmina to the coarse desar. Kullu in particular has been famous for its shawls with striking geometrical patterns and vibrant colours – the distinctive feature being stripes running along the edges.

Himachali topis or caps are of distinctive styles and are different for every region. In Kinnaur, not only shawls, but also saris, trousers and pyjamas are woven in wool. The shawls woven in Rampur, known as Rampur chaddar, are famous for their soft texture and durability. In Chamba district, the weaving assumes a chequered pattern. Besides shawls, carpets and blankets are an essential part of the Himachali lifestyle. Carpets in brilliant colours are woven with a variety of traditional motifs – there are garudas on flowering trees, dragons, swastikas, flutes symbolising happiness or lotus blooms signifying purity. Carpets are woven as furnishing, as saddles for horses and as blankets or chutkas. They are also a part of every bride`s trousseau.

Wood Craft

Himachal is the only area in India, besides Kerala, where wood has played an important role as a structural material. The most abundant wood in Himachal`s forests is the pine and deodar, besides walnut, horse chestnut and wild black mulberry. Villages famous for woodcraft are Chamba, Chhatrarhi, Brahmaur, Koonr, Tisa (Chamba); Kalpa, Thangi, Rarang, Sapni, Batseri, Shaung, Bari and Bhaba (Kinnaur); Dungri, Banjar and Saraj (Kullu). Earliest wooden temples in Himachal date as far back as sixth century AD and are located in Brahmaur and Chhatrarhi in Chamba. Many other temples sculpted in wood lie scattered all over Himachal. Village homes too are extensively ornamented with carvings – on doors, windows, balcony panels etc – some exquisite examples may be found in villages as remote as Kamru, Sangla, Chitkul, villages in Kinnaur and Jagatsukh, Vashishta and villages around Manali and Kullu. The craft also translates into wooden idols of gods and goddesses in classical as well as rural styles. Utilitarian objects crafted in wood can be often found in Pahari homes – these may include rectangular boxes to store grains or ornaments: the extent of carving indicates the social strata of its owner.

The Gaddi households in Chamba and Brahmaur were famous for their attractive wooden utensils. Kinnauri villages still use wooden household utensils extensively. The nobility in the state brought in European influences and employed craftsmen to create chairs, tables, cabinets, picture frames, cigar boxes, screens, walking sticks etc. Wood is used in rituals by way of temple chariots, low settees, sandals, wooden pipes etc. Intricately carved wooden spinning wheels were used in the past – the ornamentation has faded of late. However, at large, wodcarving is still a living tradition in Himachal. 

Stone Craft

The Shivalik hills abound in fine sandstone, which is eminently suited for carving, and has played a vital role in perpetuating the stone carvers’ craft. Numerous stone temples still dot the Himachal landscape. Kangra, Mandi, Bilaspur, Sirmaur, Chamba and Kullu have been traditional centres for stone carving. The capital towns of feudal states often had large stone temples – the monolithic temple of Masroor, Baijnath temple in Kangra, Shiva and Devi temples at Jagatsukh, Naggar, Nirmand and elsewhere in Kullu, the numerous shrines along the banks of the river Beas in Mandi, the temples at Brahmaur, Chhatrahi, Chamba, Bilaspur and Sirmaur date from the 7th and 13th century AD.

Himachali topis or caps are of distinctive styles and are different for every region. In Kinnaur, not only shawls, but also saris, trousers and pyjamas are woven in wool. The shawls woven in Rampur, known as Rampur chaddar, are famous for their soft texture and durability. In Chamba district, the weaving assumes a chequered pattern. Besides shawls, carpets and blankets are an essential part of the Himachali lifestyle. Carpets in brilliant colours are woven with a variety of traditional motifs – there are garudas on flowering trees, dragons, swastikas, flutes symbolising happiness or lotus blooms signifying purity. Carpets are woven as furnishing, as saddles for horses and as blankets or chutkas. They are also a part of every bride`s trousseau. 

Metalcraft

Objects crafted with metal fulfil religious, ritualistic and everyday needs of the people of Himachal. Even in AD 600, the courts of the Himachali kings had master craftsmen who specialised in metalware, and antique metal statuettes are a feature in many temples of the state. There are fine examples of freestanding metal statues at temple entrances in Brahmaur, Chamba and the Vajreshwari Devi temple in Kangra. Gods and goddesses also appear as mohras or in metal plaques – which are used during processions and festivals. In fact, metalcraft in Himachal grew around temples and palaces. Repousse technique was used to create beautiful temple doors – temples of Vajreshwari Devi, Jwalamukhi in Kangra, Bhimkali in Sarahan and Chandika Devi in Kinnaur employ this technique to perfection. Bronze figurines, particularly that of goddess Durga killing the demon Mahisha is a common sight in most households. Low settees made of silver or brass are another common ritual artefact used in homes as well as temples, besides bells, incense burners, lamps, jars, flasks, tridents, fly whisks, and canopies. 

A famous canopy made of gold is the one at the Jwalamukhi temple, believed to have been gifted by emperor Akbar. The metal artefacts of Kinnaur represent a unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. There are ritual cups, daggers, kettles, jugs, prayer wheels, conch trumpets and so on. Brass is often used in the hills for fashioning household utensils. The Kinnaur metalsmiths also specialise in the repousse worked door handles fashioned in the form of crocodile, dragon or lion-head. All sacred buildings display these handles. Another interesting item is the dongbo or tea churner, as common as the intricately carved hookah bases in these parts. Some of the towns where good metal work may be found are Bilaspur, Chamba, Kupa, Rekong Peo, Rohru, Sarahan and Jogindernagar.

Jewellery

Pahari jewellery is artistic and elaborate. It has the vigour and sturdiness of style that comes from nature itself. The designs are borrowed from simple motifs like seeds, flowers and leaves and developed into exquisite patterns. While different communities wear jewellery unique to their traditions, some ornaments are worn all over. These include the hemispherical boss or chak – worn on the crown and both sides of the head. Neck ornaments are important in all districts – from collar like hansli or small pendants called toke. The Pahari variant of the torque is a long necklace of numerous chains linked together by silver plaques. Chandanhaar is a necklace comprising five or seven rows of facetted gold beads. One of the most cherished neckpieces is a coin necklace. The choker worn here is called kach and consists of silver beads and triangular plaques. Earrings are often worn with drops or granulations, nose studs are embedded with precious and semiprecious stones and often, an ornament of pendants is strung to it. Chiri tikka is a flat piece of silver, enamelled or embedded with pearls and suspended from the centre of the forehead while several chains hang along the hairline on both sides. 

The jutti is a heavy bunch of silver tassels or flowers, attached to the plait while a smaller ornament, beshtar is tied to the plait ends. Men, women and children often wear silver amulets to ward off evil spirits – a tradition carried to the hills from the plains. In lower Himachal, there is a marked preference for gold ornaments while deeper in the villages, silver is more common. While there is a basic homogeneity in the jewellery and style of adornment, each community has ornaments distinct to it. Some important towns for buying hill jewellery are Moti Bazaar in Mandi, Chaugan bazaar in Chamba, Kangra town, Sultanpur and Kullu. There is also a village called Sunarion ki Gaon near Rohru, where many families are engaged in jewellery fashioning.





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