It is incredible how ancient practices and traditions in Indian art and crafts have continued unbroken for thousands of years. For centuries, Indian handicrafts have been distinguished for their aesthetic and functional value. Various traditions, rituals, geographic and climatic conditions, lifestyles and cultures have given birth to numerous styles and designs of art, which continue to evolve with the evolution of the civilization.
Vishwakarma, a demigod of creation, is mentioned as dhatukarmara, dhatu is the “raw material” and karmara refers to the artisans (Rig Veda 10.72.2).
The Sanskrit word kala (art) means the divine attributes, which from everyday life, it reflects a world-view. The eighteen or more professional arts (shilpa) and sixty-four vocational arts (kala) embrace all kinds of skilled activity. Both a painter and a sculptor are known as shilpi or karigar. In India, over a crore craftsmen are still involved in various forms of creative arts on the basis of their creativity and production. These crafts and skills were handed over from generation to generation.
India is a land abundant in raw materials from expensive materials like gems and marble, to cheaper ones like clay, cane, bamboo and wood. The creative hands of the Indian craftsmen make the raw material go through many processes and create handicrafts of captivating beauty.
Techniques have been experimented and perfected upon through centuries. Indian art features spiral and curvaceous lines, vines and tendrils, round figured women, circular amulets, coloured gemstones, arches and domes, haloed deities, crescent moons and the sun. Indian artists have borrowed freely from the captivating nature. Processes like the ‘chikan’ work and ‘phulkari and bagh’ work on cloth; certain types of polishing and metal casting or even the filigree work on metals is unique to Indian art.
The arts of India expressed in architecture, sculpture, painting, jewellery, pottery, metalwork, and textiles, were spread throughout the Far East and exercised a strong influence on the arts of China, Japan, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and Java.
Temple sculptures were mostly produced in stone, clay, copper, and gold in the Hindu temples. Kailasanatha temple in Ellora is an entire temple made from a rock. It is an UNESCO World heritage site.
Another example of the earlier phase is a gold figurine of a goddess, found at Lauriya Nandangarh. Other common examples include finely polished and ornamented stone disks and coins representing many kinds of animals and religious symbols.
Among the remains of the burnt-brick buildings of Mohenjo-Daro, alabaster and marble figures, terracotta figurines of goddesses, and representations of animals, a copper model of a cart, and numerous square seals of ivory showing animals and pictographs were found. The similarity of these objects to Mesopotamian work indicates a possible common ancestry of the 2 cultures.
Sadanga (6 limbs of Hindu Painting) is a series of canons laying down the main principles of the art. These ‘6 Limbs’ have been translated as follows:
- Rupabheda – The knowledge of appearances
- Pramanam – Correct perception, measure and structure
- Bhava – Action of feelings on forms
- Lavanya yojanam – Infusion of grace, artistic representation
- Sadrishyam – Similitude
- Varnikabhanga – Artistic manner of using the brush and colours
The ‘6 limbs’ were put into practice by artists, and are the basic principles on which their art was founded.
The history of cave paintings in India range from drawings by pre-historic man, typified by those at the Bhimbetka rock shelters, to the frescoes on the walls of Ajanta and Ellora. There are known more than 20 fine examples around India containing murals in natural caves and rock-cut chambers, including Sittanavasal, and Armamalai Cave (Tamil Nadu). Vatsyayana enumerates these in his Kamasutra book having extracted them from still more ancient works.
Other paintings include Rajput paintings, Mysore paintings, Tanjore paintings, Madhubani painting, Warli paintings, Pattachitra and the Bengal school of paintings. From geometric designs to floral to images of gods and goddesses, wall hangings are a symbol of hospitality in India.
Valued for their royal patronage, besides artistic excellence, these artistic pieces are a culmination of exquisite workmanship and artistic perception. Flawlessly crafted using different raw materials and designs, with great attention invested on intricacy and detail, they are matchless in beauty and range. Coming in different range and variety, with exclusive styles and execution, their beauty is awesome.
Indians have been very fashionable from the very ancient times if the sculptural evidence is anything to go by. Cotton cloth has always been worn in India by the masses while the rich favoured the use of silks. Elaborate head-dresses and jewellery were even sported by men. The earlier dress code revolved around wrapping the body with varied lengths of cloth.
Styles of women’s clothes are given a great deal of importance. The typical costume of the Indian women, are the Sari, Salwar Kameez and the Ghaghra Choli. The diverse cultures and traditions have greatly influenced the styles of these costumes.
Women would use the six-yard length of cloth as a sari that would accentuate their figures, making them look attractive. Sari is still draped beautifully in the most intriguing manner. It is worn with a stitched blouse. The sari is pleated in the front, tucked into the waistband of the petticoat, and the end is flung over the shoulder, displaying the pallav with intricate designs on it. There are regional variations in the way it is worn. In Maharashtra, the sari is 9 metre long and is worn tucked between the legs. Half saris are worn by young girls in the south and the northeastern regions.
Salwar Kameez are worn mainly by the women of northern India but is favoured all over India by now. It includes a baggy pair of pyjamas called the Salwar, worn with a long and flowing shirt called Kameez. The Kashmiri and the Himachali women wear a similar dress. Theirs is thicker to suit to the climate and the embroidery done on them is particular to the region. In Lucknow, the baggy pajamas are replaced by tight and long leggings that form many folds at the ankles. These are called churidars, suggesting ‘bangles’. So comfortable is the dress that it is worn by most working women across India.
The Ghaghra Cholis with their glittering mirror work is the most attractive. This comprises of long pleated skirts, known as Ghaghra or Lehenga, and is worn with twin blouses. The blouses have elaborate mirror work and patch work on them and are very colourful. It is designed to leave the back and midriff bare. This type of dresses is mainly by women in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat.
Variations of this dress are worn in the Northeast and southern states. These are known as half-saris. In Meghalaya, the women favour the jyensyem, a traditional dress consisting of two ankle length pieces of cloth gathered at the shoulders. In Arunachal, Nagaland and Mizoram they prefer a blouse and a length of cloth wound around the waist and running down the ankle like a skirt, but more closely resembling the male Lungi of the south.
As for Indian men, the lungi or dhoti (long piece of cloth wrapped around the legs) is worn. The pyjama and kurta is also worn.