Thursday, 19 January 2012

Papier Mache – Art born in the land of Persia and raised in Kashmir

Paper machie was invented in China in about 105 A.D . Papier Mache is a French word meaning ‘Mashed paper’. It is a delicate decorative art which shows the artistic zeal of craftsmen in Kashmir. This tradition in Kashmir has its origin rooted in the 15th century when King Zain-ul-Abidin invited accomplished artists from Central Asia. The art was highly favoured by Mughal Emperors of 15th and 16th Century. About that time the art of handmade paper received a revolutionary fillip and provided a new material for the craftsmen. Before that, wood workers and painters made colourful patterns mainly on wood, in making ceiling panels, doors, bedsteads, palanquins etc.
Papier Mache Wall Clocks
 The art was originally known in Kashmir as Kar-i-qalamdan, being confined to ornamentation of cases then used for keeping pens and other small personal articles. The art was also known as Kar-i-munaqqash since it was used for ornamenting smooth surfaces made of paper pulp or layers of polished paper.

The Mughal period saw the art extended to palanquins, ceilings, bedsteads, doors, and windows. During Mughal patronage, most of the palanquins used by the courtiers were said to have been made and painted in Kashmir. Beautiful specimens of the glorious tradition of papier mache can be seen in the museums of Europe and America. In the old days the technique of papier mache was artistically applied to woodwork, especially windows, wall panels, ceilings, and furniture.

Famous places with Papier Mache designs are fine ceiling at Madin Sahib Mosque (dated 1444 AD), the ceiling at the Shah Hamdan Mosque at Fatehkadal and the Mughal gardens, at Shalimar in Srinagar.

The creation of a papier-mache object can be divided into two distinct categories, the sakhtsazi (making the object) and the naqashi (painting the surface).There is a class of people called sakhta makers.

Sakhtsazi (Making the object):

  1. Waste paper, cloth, rice straw and copper sulphate; all these are taken together and ground into pulp. After the pulp is ready, wooden or brass moulds are used to give it the required shape. Several layers of pulp are laid one over the other till the required thickness has been obtained and the object has taken a shape.

  1. When the pulp dries, it is rubbed with and smoothed with the help of a stone with an even surface. It is removed from the mould with a small saw.

  1. The article then has to be rejoined; this is done with the help of thick glue. When the joint is made secure, the object is rubbed gently with a wooden file called ‘kathwa’. The surface is once again made even and angularities are smoothened.

  1. Then a paste of glue and chalk is applied from inside and outside with the help of a brush.

  1. When the glue and chalk coat dries, the craftsman once again rubs the surface. For this purpose, an even piece of baked brick called ‘kurket’ is used. Now small pieces of paper are pasted over it with the help of glue. The purpose is to make the surface secure against cracks to which the glue and chalk coat has been applied.

In the case of items made of wood instead of paper pulp the required wooden shapes are secured through the carpenters working on light wood, ‘kayra’ being the common type. The article is then smoothened and rubbed again to receive the ground (zamin) colour. This colour may be gold, white, black, red, blue etc.
Outlines are generally drawn with a zarda or yellow colour and the spaces are delineated for floral works are stained with astar and white paint. Then the floral works are painted in different colours. The art lies here; it is an interesting sight to see an old artist, elaborating from memory patterns of artistic designs in rich and subdued colours. The opening work called ‘partaz’ is done with any appropriate colour.
The bristle of the hair of goat, cat and ass are set in handles of feather (quills) by means of silken threads, inferior bristles are cut and trimmed up. Craftsmen make use of these special types of brushes for producing exquisite designs. Brushes used for this art form are different from those used by painters and artists.
Papier Mache Miniature Chest of Drawers
In the early days of this craft mineral, organic and vegetable colours were used. The colours would not loose intensity, strength even if the objects were kept in direct sunlight or in water for days together. The process of preparation of mineral colours is a painstaking effort. At the first place, the minerals are tied in a sack/bag of cloth and moistened with water and then roughly beaten. This broken wet material is grounded into paste on a fislab and the paste is dried into fine powder. Finally, this powder is mixed with glue and water. The material is then rigorously stirred till a fine colour in the shape of mixture is obtained.
Organic and Vegetable Colour Sources:
White - white lead came from Russia,
Body white - was prepared from a local stone called ‘shallaneen’.
Ultramarine Blue – was prepared from ‘Virdigris’ (green) and ‘lapis lazuli’  
Browns - were prepared from a clay which was imported from Armenia,
Yellows - were prepared from a flower ‘guli ksu’ and a wild plant ‘weftangil’.
Violet and Blue - were extracted using the indigo leaf and weed.
Reds - were derived from cochineal, log wood and local forest wood named ‘lin’. Red was sometime obtained from saffron.
Light Brown- Green and dried walnut skins yielded light browns, and
Black - was produced from lamp blacks as well as from walnuts. For large and plain groundwork, black was produced from half-burnt cowdung.
Painting on the papier mache       objects these days is done in distemper colours. These colours are made from pigments diluted in water to which some glue is added to fix it to the ground on which it is used. Handmade red clay or black clay pots and containers glazed inside are used for colours employed in papier mache process.
The important elements in papier mache designs are objects of nature mostly flowers and birds, particularly the kingfisher and bulbul, historical figures, animals, hunting and battle scenes, court scenes influenced by miniature paintings. Papier mache products reflect a very subtle grammar of motif and style. Popular patterns or design motifs are the traditional ‘hazara’ or ‘thousand flowers’ ( the pattern attempts to display every conceivable flower) and ‘gulandergul’ or ‘flower within flower’. The chinar leaf, the iris, the Persian rose, the almond and cherry blossom, the tulip, narcissus and hyacinth are also popular motifs. Border patterns such as gondur and tyond are generally geometric abstracts. Among other rich designs are 'Arabesque', done in gold against a brown or red ground to show sprays of rose blossoms in fine lines and 'Yarkand', an elaborate design built up in spirals with gold rosettes radiating from various centers and white flowers laid over gold scroll work.
Papier Mache on Steel Glasses
A great variety of richly painted products like flower vases, wall plaques, bowls, trays, boxes of various shapes and sizes, bangles, mirror holders and frames, caskets, lamp vases, screens and items of furniture are made for their functional appeal and decorative charm. There is much more scope for pleasing functional items, such as bedstead legs, candle stands, trinket boxes, and fine packaging for expensive items. In Ladakh, masks are made out of paper pulp (mixed with clay, cotton, flour and glue) and painted in bright colours. Handicraft workers make statues also for the monasteries in this technique. The style of Papier Mache painting has also been applied on cookie boxes, steel trays and glasses and similar items of daily use

The ingenious Papier Mache artisans of Kashmir transform a variety of utility articles into rare art pieces. These skills are passed down from generation to generation, son taking the place of his father and father taking place of his father this art has been handed down from family to family. Kashmiri craftsman have tried to maintain the culture of  Papier Mache and to this day it is still being made by hand in these small home shops where families gather together and work on it and bring these beautiful creations to the world.

Kashmiri or Papier Mache Painted Products such as Kashmiri Painting on Steel Containers, Kashmiri Painted Wooden or Steel trays, Kashmiri Painted Wood or Kashmiri Painted Cookie Boxes etc are available on on the below links:

Kashmiri Painted Containers

Kashmiri Painted Trays

Kashmiri Painted Cookie Boxes

Kashmiri Painted Flower Vase

Kashmiri Painted Art on Wood

Video on Kashmiri Papier Mache Painting Art

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Puppetry in India – Types and Key Aspects

Puppets or “Kathputli” is an ancient and popular form of folk entertainment. Egyptians are probably the earliest known puppeteers. String Puppets of wood performing the action of kneading bread is the oldest evidence of puppets in Egypt as early as 2000 BC. Puppetry in India must have originted earlier than 5th century B.C.
In the 2nd century the Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar mentioned about `marionettes moved by strings` in his compositions. The mention of the `pavai koothu` in the Tamil epic Silappadhikareita by Ilango Adigal is also very significant regarding the history of puppetry. In Srimad  Bhagvata, the God Almighty has been likened to a puppeteer who with three strings-Sattva, Rajas and Tamas-manipulates all the beings in the created universe.

There are four types of puppets glove, rod, shadow and string. They are differentiaed based on the different ways of manipulation of puppets. Below is a short description of the type and the states in India which have these arts:

1. Glove Puppets

The glove puppets are worn on hands just like a glove. The middle finger and thumb act as hands of the puppet and the index finger acts as the head. Also known as hand puppets these are a small figure having head and arms wearing a long skirt as its dress. One puppeteer can perform with two puppets at a time.

Indian states which are known for these arts.

  • Glove puppets in Kerala are called Pava-kathakali. The puppets are very colourful and created like a kathakali actor who wears heavy and mask-like facial make-up, headgear and colourful costumes. The height of a puppet varies from one foot to two feet. The head and the arms are carved of wood and joined together with thick cloth, cut and stitched into a small bag. The theme for Glove puppet plays in Kerala is based on the episodes from either the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.
  • Kundhei nach are the glove puppets of Orissa. These are made of three wooden pieces consisting of the head and the two hands with holes for inserting fingers. The wooden pieces are joined in a long flowing costume. The puppeteer plays on the dholak with one hand and manipulates the puppet with the other. The delivery of the dialogues, the movement of the puppet and the beat of the dholak are well synchronised and create a dramatic atmosphere.

2. Rod Puppets

The rod puppets are manipulated by rods of various types and sizes. These puppets have mostly three joints. The heads, supported by the main rod, is joined at the neck and both hands attached to rods are joined at the shoulders. The main holding rod that supports the puppet may be hidden by a robe or costume of the puppet. The action rods are usually connected to the hands of the puppet and manipulated by the puppeteer to show action. The body and hands have a bamboo base covered and plastered with hay and rice husk mixed and moulded into required shape. Due to the absence of legs the puppets are draped in a sari or dhoti as per the character. The puppet movements are highly dramatic.

Indian states which are known for these arts.

  • West Bengal has a rich tradition of rod puppetry called putul nach (dancing dolls). The puppeteers, each holding a puppet, perform from behind a head-high bamboo curtain. They move and dance while manipulating the rods attached to the puppets. The puppets are 1 ½ meter in height built over 2 ½ meter long bamboo. Plays based on Ramayana, Satee Behula legends are enacted through puppets.

  • In Orissa Kathi Kandhe is the art of Rod Puppetry. The Orissa Rod puppets are much smaller in size, usually about twelve to eighteen inches. Stories based on mythology, fantasy and social themes are adopted by the rod puppeteers. The puppeteers squat on the ground behind a screen and manipulate. Again it is more operatic in its verbal contents since impromptu prose dialogues are infrequently used. Most of the dialogues are sung.
  • The traditional Rod puppet of Bihar is known as Yampuri. These puppets are made of wood. These puppets are in one piece and have no joints. Since these puppets have no joints, the manipulation is different from other Rod puppets and requires greater skills.

3. Shadow Puppets

Shadow puppets are flat puppets that are operated against the rear of a tightly stretched white cloth screen. They are cut out of leather, which has been treated to make it translucent. Shadow puppets are pressed against the screen with a strong source of light behind it. The manipulation between the light and the screen make silhouettes or colourful shadows for the viewers who sit in front of the screen. The puppet shapes or cutouts are perforated and split bamboo or cane sticks are attached vertically to the puppet for handling and manipulation. The Shadow puppet theatre is practiced in the states of Andhra Pradesh (Tholu Bommalata), Karnataka (Togalu Gombeyata), Kerala (Tolpavakoothu), Maharashtra (chamadyache Bahulya), Orissa, and Tamil Nadu (Tolpavaikoothu).

Indian states which are known for these arts.

  • Tholu Bommalata, Andhra Pradesh's shadow theatre has the richest and strongest tradition. Tholu Bommalata, meaning dance of leather puppets (tholu – leather, bommalata – puppet dance). The puppets are brightly coloured and are made out of goat skin. These leather puppets are about 5-6 ft. in height and have joints at shoulders, elbows, knees and sometimes also the waist, neck and ankles. They are coloured on both sides and throw coloured shadows on the screen. Traditionally, vegetable dyes are used for colouring the puppets. The music is dominantly influenced by the classical music of the region and the theme of the puppet plays are drawn from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas. There are number of families who have adapted this art form to create products for daily use like production of decorative lampshades, wall hangings etc.

  • In Kanataka the leather or shadow puppets are locally called togalu (leather) gombe-atta (puppet dance) of Karnataka. These puppets are mostly small in size. The puppets however differ in size according to their social status, for instance, large size for kings and religious characters and smaller size for common people or servants. The themes for the puppet plays are drawn from epics and puranic literature and a number of characters like clowns, dancers, etc, which are presented in almost all plays.

  • The Ratnagiri area of Maharashtra has a shadow puppetry art known locally as Chamadyache Bahulya. These shadow puppets have no jointed limbs and are delicately coloured with vegetable dyes. Episodes from Ramayana are narrated using folk tunes. This form is also in the brink of extinction.

  • Orissa’s Ravanachhaya shadow puppetry is the most theatrically exciting puppet show. These puppets are smaller in size-the largest not more than two feet have no jointed limbs. The puppets are made of deer skin and are conceived in bold dramatic poses.  Held close to a white cloth screen against an oil-lamp, shadows are distinctly visible to the spectators who sit on the other side. They are not coloured, hence throw opaque shadows on the screen. The manipulation requires great dexterity, since there are no joints. Apart from human and animal characters, many props such as trees, mountains, chariots, etc. are also used. Episodes from Ramayana are shown.

  • The shadow puppets in Tamil Nadu are known as Thol Bommalattam (shadow puppetry). The puppets are made of goat skin without any perforations. Stories from Ramayana and Mahabaratha are enacted. There are very few families now performing shadow puppet shows in villages. This poor situation is due to decline in the popularity of puppetry and development of cinema and other modern entertainment in villages.

4. String Puppets

Rajasthan String Puppet
India has a rich and ancient tradition of string puppets or marionettes. String puppets are made of wood, or wire, or cloth stuffed with cotton, rags or saw dust. The puppet is suspended from a hand held control strings that are attached to different parts of the puppet's body. Marionettes having jointed limbs controlled by strings allow far greater flexibility and are, therefore, the most articulate of the puppets. The puppet is manipulated by operating the control as well as by loosening or pulling the relevant string(s). 

The string puppet also known as marionettes has jointed body and limbs that allow movement. Some of the traditional string puppets are very heavy. For the convenience of manipulation and support, two rods are attached to the hands of the puppets.

Indian states which are known for these arts.

  • In Assam string puppet shows locally called putal-nach are prevalent in the plains of Assam. The body and hands of the puppets are made of soft wood. The sizes of the puppets vary from 1 ½ ft to 2 ½ ft. Human figure puppets have moveable joints for manipulation. The flowing cloth to cover the bottom portion and hence there is no need of legs. Stories from Indian mythology like Ramayana and Mahabaratha are enacted through the puppets.

  • The string puppets of Karnataka are called Gombeyatta. They are styled and designed like the characters of Yakshagana, the traditional theatre form of the region. The puppets have rounded figures with legs, and joints at shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. The Gombeyatta puppet figures are highly stylized. Five or more strings attached to a puppet figure are tied to a rod-like wooden prop. Some of the more complicated movements of the puppet are manipulated by two to three puppeteers at a time. Episodes enacted in Gombeyatta presents stories based on episodes drawn from epics and puranas. The music that accompanies is dramatic and beautifully blends folk and classical elements. The highly dramatic music is a blend of folk and classical style.

  • Maharashtrian string puppets which is on the verge of extinction is called Kalasutri Bahulya. The Kalasutri puppets are small puppets without legs. They have only two joints at the shoulders and are manipulated using strings that are attached to the head and hands of the puppet. Episodes from Ramayana or other epics of the area are narrated through folk tunes.

  • The string puppets of Orissa are known as Gopalila Kundhei. The string puppets are light wooden half-dolls from head to waist with detachable arms. These puppets have no legs but wear long flowing skirts. They have more joints and are, therefore, more versatile, articulate and easy to manipulate. The puppeteers often hold a wooden prop, triangular in shape, to which strings are attached for manipulation. Earlier a mat made of peacock feathers used to be the only back-drop but now painted draperies are being used. The costumes of Kundhei resemble those worn by actors of the Jatra traditional theatre. The music is drawn from the popular tunes of the region and is sometimes influenced by the music of Odissi dance. String puppetry adopts verse-dramas based on mythology, fantasy and social themes, with plenty of interludes of dance and humorous skits.

  • The traditional marionettes of Rajasthan are known as Kathputli. Carved from a single piece of wood, these puppets are like large dolls that are colourfully dressed. Strings are attached to the head for manipulation. The faces are usually painted yellow, white or any light colour. The body up to the waist and hands are made of stuffed rags, cotton or cloth bits. The hands have no joints unlike the other string puppets of India. These puppets wear long trailing skirts and do not have legs. Puppeteers manipulate them with two to five strings which are normally tied to their fingers and not to a prop or a support. Popular legendary stories like Amarsingh Rathore, Maharana Pratap or Rani Padmini are enacted with folk music of Rajasthan.

  • Puppets from Tamil Nadu, known as Bommalattam combine the techniques of both rod and string puppets. Bommalattam puppets are the largest, heaviest and the most articulate of all traditional Indian marionettes. The size may be around 4 – 4 ½ ft. in height and many weigh around 8-10 kg. The joints at the shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and wrists give good movement during the puppet manipulation.  They are made of wood and the strings for manipulation are tied to an iron ring which the puppeteer wears like a crown on his head. String puppet plays are based on episodes from epics and puranic literature.

The presentation of puppet programmes involves the creative efforts of many people working together. With the Modern Cinemas and Television grasping most of the audience Puppetry in India is on the brink of extinction. Many of the puppeteers are taking to other professions.

Rajasthani String puppets are available on on the below links:

Video on Shadow Puppetry

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Gond Paintings: A Mystic world created by Dots and Lines

Gond Painted Tray
The word Gond comes from the Dravidian expression kond , meaning green mountain .The Gonds were the ruling class in many parts of Central India in the 14th century. Gond rajas, or kings, ruled until they were conquered by Muslim armies and were forced to flee into the thick jungles.

In the Gond belief system, besides Bara Deo (Great God), every hill, river, lake, tree, and rock is inhabited by a spirit and therefore sacred. Like most tribals, the Gonds are artistically gifted: they paint their house walls with artistic designs. Both male and female family members participate in painting. Gond paintings  are done on village mud walls use colors derived from charcoal, colored soil, plant sap, leaves, and cow dung and can last up to 20 years. These paintings are found in the inner and outer walls of the houses , windows and niches . Gond paintings reflect man’s relationship with Nature. In Gond art, horses, stags, tigers, birds, gods and people are painted in several bright colours and filled with dots, lines or other geometrical patterns to give a texture. This style of painting has been called by various names: Jangarh Kalam, Pardhaan painting, Gond painting, etc.

Painting Process
Gond paintings are fascinating , where the artists express their faiths and beliefs , world view , their visual expression and sense of identity , both as a collective , and as individuals . Gond paintings are based basically on line work . The artists draw the inner and outer lines with utmost care that are so striking in their precision and perfection . The imaginative use of the line imparts a sense of movement of still images . The colours are mainly black and white , red , blue and yellow .

 The motifs are further associated with the rich repertoire of the community and strongly show the interactions with the cosmic , natural and social worlds of humans at multiple levels and contexts . Local deities , cock fights , forest scenes , agriculure, marriages and other rituals find a place in these paintings . Gond artists paint their lives vividly , drawing from their heritage which gives them a rich canvas.

Prominent colours
Gond Painted Study Table

Deep red – derived from Al tree
Yellow - from Chui  mitti (Local Sand)
Brown - from Gheru mitti (Another type of Sand)
Green - from leaves, and
Red - from hibiscus flower

Originally, natural colours were used for painting. Nowadays  because of non-availability of  natural colours and the easy availability of  alternative colours, the artists have began to utilize poster colours in their work. Black and white colours were not generally used, but now they are also being used.

The Gond art rendezvous with the belief that "viewing a good image begets good luck". This inherent belief led the Gonds to decorating their houses and the floors with traditional tattoos and motifs.The Gond paintings also bear a resemblance to Australian aboriginal art.

Gond Painted Products such as Gond Painting on Wood, Gond Painted Wooden trays or Gond Painted Cookie Boxes etc are available on on the below links:

Video on Gond Art

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Madhubani Paintings: A Journey from village walls to Canvas

Madhubani, which means Forest of Honey, (Madhu-honey,
Bans-forest or woods) is a small village in the northern part of Bihar. A region that has its own language and a sense of regional identity that goes back more than 2500 years.  The land which is a birthplace of Mahavira (a  deity of the Jain religion), Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), and Sita (the wife of  Lord Rama in the Ramayana). The exact time of the origination of Madhubani or Mithila art is not known. It is believed that during the time of the Ramayana, when King Janak ordered his kingdom to decorate the town for the wedding of his daughter, Sita, to Lord Rama. It is said that the women in Madhubani and Mithila started making the paintings on the walls of their huts and this art form. Traditionally these paintings were passed down over generations from mother to daughter.
Madhubani Painted Canister

The women painters of Mithila lived in a closed society. What led the women painters to share their work with the larger world was a major ecological and economic crisis due a prolonged drought in 1966-68 that struck Madhubani and the surrounding region of Mithila and women began to commercialise their art. The ancient tradition of elaborate wall paintings or Bhitti - Chitra in Bihar played a major role in the
emergence of this new art form. The original inspiration for Madhubani art emerged out of women’s craving for religiousness and an intense desire to be one with God.  With the belief that painting something divine would achieve that desire, women began to paint pictures of gods and goddesses with an interpretation so divine that captured the hearts of many.

Madhubani paintings have three distinguished styles which correspond to three castes of the Region:

1 . The Brahmins were the highest among these three castes. The Brahmin style of painting lavishly deals use of vibrant colors and their paintings were inspired by the sacred texts with stories of various Gods ; Ram, Krishna, Durga and Shiva. Their easy access to Hindu sacred literature has helped them immensely in portraying the rich Hindu iconography and mythology. The Brahmin tradition mainly deals with themes of gods and goddesses and magical symbols connected with deities.
Madhubani Painting on Wood

2 . The Kayasthas were a little below the Brahmins in the caste hierarchy. The Kayastha style of painting basically was a practice of elaborate wall paintings of the nuptial chamber or the “kohbar ghar”. And these are symbolic of sexual pleasure and procreation. The wrappers for the vermilion powder were painted by the bridegrooms family and sent to the bride before the wedding. And they were allowed only black and red colours. The subjects of these paintings were similar as the Brahmins. This style goes back to the period of the Aryan invaders. These paintings were line- drawings of sacred symbols. They represented the lotus plant, bamboo grove, fish, tortoises, parrots, birds and all that symbolised fertility.

3 . The Dusadhs were a low caste group and they were not allowed to represent divinities. This style is known as Tattoo or Godhana painting. Their paintings themes included the flora and fauna, and based on the legend of Raja Salhesh  – a Dusadh cultural hero. The painting is originally in the form of a line - drawing and is divided into several horizontal margins. Eventually artists have begun to do illustrations on Hindu epics and mythology. Considering its rich use of colour it is closer to the Brahmin school of painting.

Madhubani  Painted Canister

Materials Used:

The traditional style of preparing the wall for painting is to coat it with a paste of cow dung and mud which were the primary village construction materials. These also enabled proper absorption of colour. The same technique is still followed by few artists on mediums such as cloth, handmade paper and canvas to give an authentic look.
The painting techniques are simple and the raw materials are taken directly from nature .Outlines are done with kalams and cotton wrapped on bamboo sticks or a bamboo stick, with its end being slightly frayed serve as brushes which are dipped in colors and applied to the medium. The colors are made using natural extract found locally like henna leaves, flowers, neem leaves, etc.

Colour Sources :
Black – obtained from soot – a soft thick deposit of captured smoke from the village chulha.
Yellow - From turmeric, pollen, lime, milk of banyan leaves,
Blue -Indigo
Deep Red - Kusum flower juice or red sandalwood
Green - wood apple tree leaves or leaves of creepers
White - Rice powder
Orange - Palasha flowers.

The vibrant colours created with natural dyes are a source of positive energy. Colours give warmth and the paintings energize the atmosphere in the household. Flora and Fauna symbolizes symbolize fertility and life. Madhubani paintings showcase these beautifully

Madhubani Products such as Madhubani on Wood, Madhubani Painted Canister and wooden trays are available on on the below links:

Video on Madhubani Paintings

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

History of Bandhani or Indian Tie & Dye Technique

The history of dyeing can be dated back to pre-historic times. This art finds its mentions in the Alexander the great time texts about the beautiful printed cottons of India. As per evidences in Historical Texts, the first Bandhani saree was worn at the time of Bana Bhatt`s Harshacharita in a royal marriage. It was believed that wearing a Bandhani saree can bring good future to a bride. Ajanta walls stand for the evidences of these Bandhani sarees. The dyers have experimented with the use of different elements both natural and man made for ages. Also there are experiments with different binding/tying techniques to create patterns on cloth immersed in containters of dye. Different types of tie and dyes have been practiced in India, Japan, and Africa for centuries. Tie-dye became fully developed in China during the T`ang dynasty (618-906 A.D.) and in Japan during the Nara period (552-794 A.D.).

The term `Bandhani` is derived from the word `Bandhan` that means tying up. It is an ancient art practise that is mainly used in the state of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Some 5000 years ago Indian Tie & Dye or Bandhani was started. Places in Rajasthan like Jaipur, Sikar, Bhilwara, Udaipur, Bikaner, Ajmer, and Jamnagar in Gurjarat are the well known centres producing odhnis, sarees and turbans in Bandhani. Different communities in Rajasthan have for ages followed the tradition on tying turbans with different patterns of bandhani on their heads. These were used to identify which community the person belonged to.In the early days dyes were extracted from roots, flowers, leaves, and berries.

Bandhani work in India was started by the Muslim Khatri Community of Kutch. The tradition has passed from one generation to the other. The art of Bandhani is highly skilled process. The technique involves dyeing a fabric which is tied tightly with a thread at several points , thus producing a variety of patterns like Leheriya, Mothra, Ekdali and Shikari depending on the manner in which the cloth is tied. The final products are known with various names like Khombi, Ghar Chola, Patori and also Chandrokhani etc.

Steps involved :

  • The area dyed is outlined using fugitive colours. Then place a transparent thin sheet of plastic, which has pin holes over this area of the fabric and using fugitive colours transfer an imprint of the desired pattern onto the fabric.
  • The artisans then pulls on a small area of the fabric where there is an imprint of hole and winds thread tightly around the protruding cloth to form a knot or bhindi. The thread generally used is nylon thread.
  • After tying the knots the fabric is thoroughly washed to remove the imprint. The cloth is then dipped in napthol for five minutes and dyed in yellow or another light color for two minutes.
  • Next it is rinsed, squeezed, dried and then tied again and dipped in a darker color. This is kept for three to four hours (without opening the knots) to allow the color to soak in. During this process the small area beneath the thread resists the dye leaving an undyed dot. This is usually carried out in several stages starting with a light color like yellow, then after tying some more knots a darker color is used and so on.
  • After the last dyeing process has been completed the fabric is washed and if necessary, starched. After the fabric is dried, its folds are pulled apart in a particular way releasing the knots and revealing their pattern. The result is a usually deep colored cloth with dots of various colours forming a pattern.

Very elaborate motifs are made, in tie and dye work. These include flowers, creepers, bells and jalas. Knots are placed in clusters each with a different name, for example, a single dot is called Ekdali, three knots is called Trikunti and four knots is called Chaubundi. Such clusters are worked intricately into patterns such as Shikargah (mountainlike), Jaaldar (weblike), Beldaar (vinelike) etc.
Some of the most common designs are
  • Dungar Shahi - the mountainpattern
  • ‘Chaubasi’ - in groups of four
  • Tikunthi - circles and squares appear in a group of three
  • Satbandi - in groups of seven
  •  Ekdali - a dot
  • Boond - a small dot with a dark centre
  • Kodi – tear or drop shaped
  • Laddu Jalebi (after the name of Indian Sweets) - the swirling

Rajasthan is well known for its Leheriya pattern or pattern of waves, which symbolizes water waves. Only two colours are used which alternate each other in a pattern of stripes arranged diagonally. Originally, the two colours used were the auspicious colours of yellow and red. The dominant colours in Bandhani are bright like yellow, red, green and pink. Maroon is also an alltime favourite. The Bandhani fabric is sold with the points still tied and the size and intricacy of the design varies according to the region and demand.

In Bandhani, different colors convey different meanings. While red represents a bride or recently married girl, a yellow background suggests a lady has become a mother recently. Also, the colours and patterns indicate the community the girl belongs.

Bandhani Products such as Bandhani Dupattas are available on on the below links:

Video on Bandhani

Monday, 9 January 2012

Dhokra – Tribal Craftsmen keeping a 4000 year old non ferrous metal casting technique alive.

Dhokra is a tribe of metalsmiths of West Bengal. The tribe which are still nomads with few settlements now extends from Jharkhand to West Bengal and Orissa to Chattisgarh Dhokras. A few hundred years ago the Dhokras of Central and Eastern India traveled to southern India as far as Kerla and to north as far as Rajasthan and hence are now found all over India. Their technique of lost wax or cire perdue casting is named after their tribe, hence Dhokra metal casting.
Dhokra Jewellery

The craft of lost-wax casting is an ancient one in India. The earliest known examples of cire perdue work include the famous bronze 'dancing girl' found in Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley. Lost wax casting subsequently spread, whether by communication or parallel invention, to most civilisations. The traditional themes of these cast metal sculptures include images of Hindu Or 'tribal' gods and goddesses, bowls, figures of people or deities riding elephants, musicians, horse and rider figures, elephants, cattle, and other figures of people, animals, and birds.

Dhokra Laxmi Mask
Dhokra Bell

The Lost Wax or Cire Perdue Technique

The casting of finely detailed metal artefacts by means of the cire perdue, or lost wax, technique is almost as old as settled civilisation. The technique is simple to describe (but difficult to perfect). It involves six stages:

 Core-making: A clay core is made, slightly smaller than the final intended size of the artefact. Clay used is a mix of two-three clays – fine clay near the river beds, Clay from the  Termite mound or ‘Ant Hills’  and normal sand. Cow Dung is also used along with rice husk in pre-determined proportions. The core may be hardened by firing or sun-drying.
 Modelling: A detailed wax model is built up around the core, to the thickness of metal desired in the finished object. Wax is derived from natural plant resin extracted from the Sal tree (Shorea robusta) mixed with mustard oil or from Bee-hives.
Moulding: The wax model is coated with a thin layer of very fine clay, which will form an impression of every detail of the model. When this layer is dry and hard, further layers of clay are added to the mould. One or more pouring channels are provided, through which molten metal can run to fill the mould. This model is then left to dry for 3-4 days.
De-waxing: The mould is pre-heated to melt the wax, and the molten wax is poured out and can be recovered for re-use. This leaves a cavity which has the exact size, shape and surface contours of the intended artefact.
Casting: Molten metal is poured into the cavity till the point where you can see the metal on top and there is no more space for more metal and the mould left to cool for the next 5-6 hours.
Finishing: The metal filled mould is then broken out and a semi-finished artefact is ready. Traces of baked clay are removed and surface blemishes and defects repaired. This artefacts is then depending the need processed with files or amery paper.

Like all the other crafts and craftsmen, there are many variations to the above outline.

Dhokra Products such as Dhokra Artefacts or Curios and Dhokra Jewellery are available on on the below links:

A detailed video of this craft is available:

Sunday, 8 January 2012

History of Potli Bags

Potli Bags are partnering Indian people since Vedic civilization.  They have increased their canvas from being a utility in olden age to a fashion accessory of the modern Indian Women. Their look and feel has changed from being a simple cloth bag to being a mesmerizing look along with the embellishment of embroidery from kutch or banaras, sequin, mirror, beadwork of bhopal, stones, pearls, diamonds, fringes, tassels on various cloths like silk, velvet, satin etc.

Potli bags in Ramayana and Mahabharata period:-
Potli was used as a travel bag when Lord Rama went in forest on his exile for fourteen years, his brother Lakshman accompanied him along with a potli bag containing clothes, medicinal leaves, fruits, water and mud of Ayodhya.

In Mahabharata, Arjuna used potli bag to hide his weapons on a tree, while he was staying in Virata Kingdom.Pandavas carried their personal belongings in potli bags during exile. Sudama carried a potli of rice when he went to meet Lord Krishna.

Vedic period Potli Bags:-

Potli Massages were famous in vedic period. A potli bag filled with various herbs was used in Ayurveda in form of cataplasm for carrying out potali massage.  Mentions of Potli are also found in ayurvedic medicine names such as Hemgarbh Potli Ras, Ratangarbh Potli Ras, Shastikshali Potli (Rice Potli) etc.

For long period of times potli mentions are found in paintings and other literature as :-
Small potli bags with strings were used for carrying money like gold coins. While, Large potli bags were used for carrying personal belongings and trading purposes on horse backs. There are also paintings showing saints carrying potli bags under their arms.

Indian Potli bags today have become a fashion accessory and come in various forms like the kutch embroidered potli bags, Bhopal beaded potli bags, woven palm leaf potli bag, benaras potli bags etc

To View our Collection of Potli Bags: