India is home to myriad handlooms and handicrafts that have been in vogue for centuries. These traditional products are not only beautiful to look at but also a reflection of India’s fine craftsmanship. Owing to competition from machine-made mass produced as well as foreign goods, traditional weavers and craftspeople are already fighting a losing battle. However, with support from tourism and other sectors, they can easily regain their former glory. Some of the products are so light-weight that they can be bought as gifts or as souvenirs for personal collection, without adding extra burden to your luggage.
Bastar Dhokra, Chhattisgarh
A visit to any workshop or an emporium selling Dhokra (also spelled as Dokra) wares will leave you spoiled for choice. One of the oldest forms of metal casting in the world, the lost wax process, has been known in practice among the tribal people of India for centuries. With a predominant tribal population, forested Bastar is the one of the best places to seek these dainty souvenirs made from an alloy of brass, nickel and zinc. Traditionally used for ritual purposes and in the homes, the craftspeople used to make human and animal figurines, small bowls, etc. But now, they have expanded the designs. So now you can buy a set of tribal musicians playing their instruments, the elephant-headed god Ganesh in various poses, tribal jewellery, designer boxes and holders, table-top accessories, etc. Bastar Dhokra got its GI tag in 2008.
Brass broidered coconut shell craft, Kerala
Acres of coconut plantations along the banks are a solace for sore eyes as you row along the backwaters of Kerala. But did you know you can pick up some exquisite handicrafts made from the shell of these coconuts? Owing to India’s long coastline, you will find coconut shell crafts in other coastal states too but it is only in Kerala that you will find them intricately designed (akin to embroidery) with brass. But it is not an easy process – shaping and carving the hard shell is a difficult task. You can get a wide range of products, from kettles to curry pots to water jugs, to plates and cutleries, show pieces, etc. The utility products can also used by the hotel and restaurant industry. This coconut shell craft got its GI tag in 2008.
Chamba Rumal, Himachal Pradesh
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Picturesque Chamba in the shadow of the Himalayas is a popular tourist attraction. But have you ever picked up a Chamba Rumal? This square or rectangular embroidered piece of cloth (also known as Roomal), often likened to a handkerchief, is one of the best souvenirs to be had. Although there are several stories associated with the origin of the craft, it is generally accepted that it has been in existence for over three centuries. Many believe it is a continuation of Chamba’s tradition of miniature paintings. Traditionally, these embroidered rumal, were part of a bridal trousseau or given as gifts. Not only the colourful presentation but the detail of the work is also to be noticed. Without its royal patronage, popularity of the rumal began to wane. However, there have been several efforts to ensure its continuity. You can use them as covers or frame them as wall décor. Chamba Rumal got its GI tag in 2008.
Channapatna wooden toys, Karnataka
Channapatna, on the Bangalore-Mysore highway does not need any indication board. The colourful wooden toys are your best landmark. Stop by the shops on the highway to pick up a few souvenirs if you are in a hurry. But for a better choice and enjoying the visual treat and to see how their made, a visit to the village is a must. Usually made from soft ivory wood, the toys are painted with vegetable dyes and then polished with a special grass. Apart from human and animal figurines, the artists make cars, locomotives, decorative and utility items, even educational toys. Although now the toys are machine-made, you may find an artist or two still making them by hand. Although it is generally agreed that the Channapatna toy industry was patronised by the former ruler of Mysore Tipu Sultan, there are various stories regarding how he patronised it. Channapatna toys got their GI tag in 2006.
Kota Doria, Rajasthan
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In between enjoying the forts, palaces and displays of miniature paintings of Kota and Bundi, do not forget to look out for this little-known gossamer fabric. The material is so light-weight that you can buy several saris, dupattas and stoles without significantly adding to the weight of your luggage. Avoid the power-loom made products and go for the hand-loom variety. Although the genesis of this fabric is still a mystery, many trace its origin to Mysore (Karnataka), indicating to the fabric’s earlier name, Kota Masuriya. While some say weavers from Mysore settled here during the Mughal period, others suggest the silk threads were brought from Mysore. This fine delicate fabric with its square pattern is woven from cotton and silk and is a laborious process. Ornamental motifs or embroideries may also be added to the pattern. It takes around two to three months to produce a sari on the handloom, according to the weavers. Kota Doria is slowly finding favour with fashion designers. If you have time to spare, drop in at the Kaithoon village, about 20km from Kota, which is now the most popular weaving centre of the fabric. Kota Doria got its GI tag in 2005.
Leather puppets, Andhra Pradesh
Although part of Andhra’s legacy of shadow puppet theatre (Tollu Bommalu or Tollu Bommalatta), these leather puppets make excellent souvenirs, especially for interior decorations. Apparently, the art developed in 200 BC under the Satavahana rulers. The theatres are usually based on tales from the Ramayana and other popular tales. Traditionally, the puppets are made of fine hide but nowadays parchment is also used. Except for figures such as ten-headed Ravana, most puppets are made from a single piece of hide. These colourful and finely executed puppets will definitely add ethnic chic to your drawing room or study. The leather puppets earned their GI tag in 2008.
Muga Silk Assam
One of the best silk produced ever, the Muga of Assam, is not only unique by virtue of its golden lustre (which improves with every wash), softness and durability but also as one of the oldest weaving crafts of India. The silkworm from which the threads are drawn are found only in Assam. According to many historical accounts, the golden period of the silk was during the Ahom period when it was a thriving industry and became a part of Assamese culture. The silk is largely used to weave the state’s traditional attire for women – mekhala chador – as well as saris and other dress material and used in various products as well. Even fashion designers today have discovered the versatility of Muga silk. Sualkuchi village is the best place to see the weavers at work. Assam’s Muga Silk got its GI tag in 2007.
Sozani craft of Kashmir
One of the lesser known handicrafts from the vale of Kashmir is the Sozani craft, a delicate form of hand-embroidery that has been in practice for centuries. Traditionally, cotton, silk and woollen threads were used for the embroidery but now synthetic threads are not unheard of. The threads are usually dyed in-house in various colours and then used to stitch the patterns (mostly floral and geometric) already traced on the fabric with the help of engraved wooden blocks. The price of the embroidered item depends on the intricacy and style of the pattern and the time taken to execute it. One of the striking features of the embroidery is that each is a unique product as every person executing the needlework have their own distinct style. Sozani craft got its GI tag in 2008.
Warli Painting, Maharashtra
Believed to be one of the oldest schools of drawing, this folk art by the eponymous tribe from Maharashtra, reflects an excellent use of geometrical shapes. In the ancient times, the tribal people would draw scenes from nature and everyday life (including social functions such as weddings) on the walls of their homes, for rituals or for decoration. Usually executed in white colour (made from rice paste and gum), they stand vivid against the red ochre mud walls. Even though on the wane, you can still see the art being practised in places like Palghar, Dahanu, etc. (easily accessible from Mumbai). You may collect some of the paintings now being executed on cloth and frame them for your wall. Some enterprises have also decided to translate these designs on to dress material and furnishings. Check out shops in Mumbai. Warli painting got its GI tag in 2014.