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10 Little Known Facts about Indian Crafts and Forms

10 Little Known Facts about Indian Crafts and Forms

Indian crafts and art forms are as diverse and vibrant as the country itself. They embody centuries of tradition, culture, and creativity. The handicrafts of India are famous not just not just in its home country, but all over the world! However, away from well-known craft styles like Madhubani and Tanjore Paintings, there are a few art forms that deserve more time in the limelight.
Here are ten fascinating facts about some of these lesser-known crafts and forms, from Ragamala and Gond art to Kalamkari:


1. Ragamala Paintings: The Symphony of Colors

Ragamala paintings are a unique form of Indian miniature painting that blend art, poetry, and classical music. These paintings, known as "Garland of Ragas," depict various ragas (musical modes) and are rich in colour and mood. Each raga is personified through a colour, a specific time of day or night, a season, and a verse that tells the story of a hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika). These intricate artworks beautifully illustrate the deep interconnection between different forms of art in medieval India.


2. The Origins of Jaali Art: A Tale of Survival

Jaali, the intricate latticework often seen in Indian architecture, has an interesting legend behind it. During Prophet Muhammad's journey of Hijra, he and his companion Abu Bakr took refuge in the Thawr cave. A spider spun a web across the cave's entrance, making it appear undisturbed to the Quraysh soldiers searching for them. This divine intervention is believed to be the inspiration behind the intricate and delicate Jaali art work, which has special prominence not just in the Indian subcontinent but also in parts of the Middle East and Africa.


3. Jadupatua Painting: A Bridge to the Afterlife

Jadupatua painting is a unique art form practised by the Santhal tribe. The themes revolve around death and the afterlife. When someone in the village dies, a Jadupatua artist visits the family and creates a painting based on the death, often without pupils in the eyes of the image. The artist performs a ritual called Chakshudaan, or "bestowal of sight," by painting the iris in the blank eyes of the portrait only after the family offers 'daan' (gifts). This act is believed to free the deceased's soul and send it to heaven.


5. Direction of Ganesha’s Trunk

Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, is revered as the deity of intellect and wisdom. The direction of Ganesha's trunk holds significant meaning. An idol with the trunk turned to the left is commonly found in homes as it is considered to be calm and pleasant, symbolising happiness and good fortune. It is believed to purify the house and eliminate Vastu Dosha and Grah Dosha. In contrast, an idol with the trunk turned to the right is associated with achieving Nirvana and emancipation from earthly desires.


6. Wildlife Motifs in Indian Folk and Tribal Art

Indian folk and tribal art often feature motifs of wildlife, reflecting the country's rich and varied cultural past. Animals such as elephants, tigers, snakes, and birds are commonly depicted and are associated with deities and mythologies, symbolising strength, fertility, and protection. These motifs also highlight the close relationship between tribal societies and nature, as hunting and gathering were integral to their way of life. Elephants, peacocks, tigers, snakes, and birds are among the most commonly used motifs in Indian craft forms.


4. The Intricate Beauty of Gond Art

Gond art, originating from the Gond tribes of Central India, is known for its intricate lines and dot work. Artists create continuous, flowing lines using fine-tipped brushes, pens, or even their fingers, giving the artwork a sense of movement and harmony. The use of dots, or stippling, adds texture and depth, creating a visually striking effect. Gond paintings not only showcase the artistic skills of the Gond people but also reflect their deep connection with nature and their surroundings.

7. The Wooden Crafts of Nagaland

Nagaland is known for its exquisite wood carvings and wooden handicrafts, created by the skilled artisans of various Naga tribes. These crafts include wooden carvings of human figures, animals, and everyday objects, often used in traditional ceremonies and rituals. The intricate designs and craftsmanship reflect the rich cultural heritage and artistic traditions of the Naga people, making these wooden crafts highly valued for their aesthetic and cultural significance.

8. Rogan Art: The Magic of Cloth Painting

Rogan art, a rare and ancient craft from Gujarat, involves painting on cloth using a thick, brightly coloured paste made from castor oil and natural colours. The artisans create intricate designs freehand, without any pre-drawn outlines, showcasing remarkable precision and skill. This labour-intensive cloth painting process results in stunning pieces that reflect the rich artistic heritage of the region.


9. Thikri: The opulent, royal art of mirror work 

Mirror mosaic work, popularly known as ‘inlay,’ has a long and illustrious history in India, dating back to the construction of the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1631. This architectural marvel is adorned with pietra dura (stone inlay) and intricate mirror-work of the finest quality, creating a mesmerizing gleaming effect in its royal halls and courtyards. The Sheesh Mahal stands as a testament to the grandeur and luxurious lifestyle of the Mughal era. 

Inspired by the regalia of the royal palaces, wealthy Marwari merchants of Shekhawati sought to replicate this opulence in their havelis (mansions). They employed skilled craftsmen to adorn their homes with exquisite mirror mosaics, using colorful mirrors imported from Belgium. These architectural beauties, painted in rich colors and featuring intricate designs, date back to the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. 


10. The Splendor of Kalighat Paintings

The exact origins of the Kalighat painting are debatable. Though there is no specific date, experts suggest that the Kalighat art form began in the early 19th century. Many historians believe that the origins of these paintings coincide with the building of the famous Kalighat Temple in Kolkata. During the 19th century, Kolkata emerged as an important economic and administrative region of British India, attracting a large number of devotees and European visitors to the Kalighat Temple. Craftsmen and artisans from surrounding villages made their way to the temple to find work opportunities. The paintings usually depicted gods and goddesses, primarily Kali, the main deity of the temple. These paintings were minimalistic, with no background images or unnecessary decorations. The patuas used British-made mill paper and ready-made chemical paints, making their creative process faster, more economical, and more efficient, unlike other traditional art forms that adhered to traditional methods.

Indian crafts and forms are not just artistic expressions; they are the embodiment of India’s rich history, culture, and tradition. Each craft piece tells a story, preserves a legacy, and continues to enchant art lovers around the world.

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