Monday, Aug 15, 2022

Craft Souvenirs To Pick From Your Next Rajasthan Trip - Part I

The bazaars of Rajasthan are made for retail therapy

An artisan in Rajasthan
An artisan in Rajasthan Shutterstock

War and in peace Rajasthan’s crafting traditions have been an intrinsic aspect of its culture. No wonder shopping takes on a whole new meaning as you plunge into its bustling markets all over the state. Where the plenitude of jewel-toned textiles, embroidered juttis, mirror-work skirts and blouses in multi-hued shades catches our attention. The bazaars of Rajasthan are made for retail therapy. The skills of the Rajasthani artisan have never been in doubt. From the rich accoutrements of the poshaks of the royals and the nobility to jewel encrusted daggers and swords, from painterly palace walls to sculpted marvels in marble and wood, a steady hand and intrinsic dedication to his craft have paid their own dividends. From stone, marble, wood, leather, glass, silver, gold and textiles, these skilled craftsmen have created incredible works that have won the hearts of both the Mughal courts and local maharajas down the decades. If you find yourself in Rajasthan anytime soon, here are 6 craft souvenirs that you should pick from your trip:


Hand block printing in Rajasthan
Hand block printing in Rajasthan Kalcutta /

The bazaars and boutiques are awash with handcrafted textiles. Tie-and-dye work from Jodhpur, hand-block-printed motifs from Sanganer village or the earthy prints of Bagru village around Jaipur, and the lehariya prints from the villages around Jaipur and the famous block-printing work from Akola village near Bhilwara all vie for attention. 

Rajasthan’s textile market spans regions and fabrics. While traditionally Rajasthan’s textiles came in vibrant colours, their look has been enriched by collaborations with designers from across the country. It is, therefore, not surprising to find a contemporary look in the most traditional of clothes. 

Perhaps the most heartening fact about the fabrics is their eco-friendly production. Wooden blocks are used for printing textiles while colours are added using vegetable dyes that have no chemicals. Some famous prints include Barmer’s red and indigo geometric patterns called ajraks; Chittorgarh’s jajam prints; and Jaisalmer’s batik (wax-resist dye-ing) and embroidery work. While tie-and-dye is popular in Sikar, Jodhpur and Jaipur, mir- rorwork, appliqué and embroidery are done in Bikaner, Sikar and Jhunjhunu. 

Kota doria, a lightweight fabric that is woven in the villages of Kaithoon, Siswali and Mangroal, is one of Rajasthan’s most famous textiles. One remarkable feature about the makers of these fabrics is that the weavers are all women. 

While the amazing embroidered mirrorwork of ghaghras, cholis, dupattas and saris will have you in thrall, it’s good to remember that Rajasthan’s famous juttis are not always plain either. There’s some nice detailed embroidery done on them that will make
you treasure them for sure. Known as Kashidakari, it entails women artisans creating inventive designs using threads in vibrant colours such as blue, orange, green, pink and magenta, constantly checking to make sure the motifs and designs are uniform on both mojaris of a pair. The motifs on the inside are smaller, but correspond with those on the outside. Having enjoyed rich patronage under the Mughals, embroidery is a craft that has, over time, witnessed a steady springing up of colourful, distinctive schools throughout the region. If Sikar in Shekhawati is famous for its embroidery, where motifs inspired from animals and birds feature on ghaghras and odhnis, little mirrors find a place in the embroidered pieces that comes from Jaisalmer. Leather embroidery enjoys a status of privilege in Jodhpur, Bikaner, Pokaran and Jaipur. Similarly, the artisan community of the Meghwals practises a form of embroidery that is big on intricately done motifs, rich colours and some fine mirrorwork. 

Embroidery attains an altogether new degree of luxury with zardozi, which makes use of metallic wire (badla; when wound around a thread, it is known as kasav). Gota patti work, also known as lappe ka kaam, makes use of gold and silver lace, and is seen most often on turbans, dresses, ghaghras, saris and the like. Believed to have originated in Rajasthan, it is now famous the world over for the royal feel it affords the wearer. The sheen of an authentic gota patti piece, made resplendent by motifs such as peacocks, paisleys and palanquins, is second to none. 


A vibrant Rajasthani carpet
A vibrant Rajasthani carpet Shutterstock

Jodhpur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer are known for woollen and cotton dhurries, which are cool, light rugs. In most cases, villagers work with businesspersons from the metros to boost their sales and to reach a wider market, and as a result, the weavers’ work reflects a harmonious blend of traditional and contemporary designs. While dhurries are more reasonably priced and easy to maintain, carpets are also great buys. Jaipur and Bikaner have many carpet outlets. Incidentally, many of the looms for making carpets are operated by prisoners, a practice that was started by the Mughals. Bikaner, for instance, is known for carpets made in prisons, popularly called jail carpets. 

A floor covering that is used widely in Rajasthan is the namdah or the felted rug. It is available in mainly two styles: embroidered, or with appliqué work. Tonk is the main carpets and rugs from Salawas village (Jodhpur) and Jawaja village (Ajmer) has long been cherished. The dhurries of Salawas, woven from coarse cotton, wool, goat and camel hair, were put on the world map by the legendary Shyam Ahuja. Jawaja produces thicker dhurries using strong and thicker yarns. They are characterised by geometric patterns in vibrant colours. 

In Jaipur, do look out for light cotton quilts in the shops opposite Hawa Mahal. These are easy to carry and prove very useful. Some shops in Chaura Raasta as well as Soma and Ratan Textiles (both have branches in Delhi) are also good places to pick up quilts. Nagaur is not only famous for its chillies but is also known for feather-light quilts. Bikaner, on the other hand, has bazaars selling cotton and camel-wool shawls. Urmul outlets are another option. Though their quilts may not be soft, they do keep you warm. 


Bangles with red minakari
Bangles with red minakari Shutterstock

Jaipur has long been famed for the most elegant and sophisticated jewellery made of precious and semi-precious stones. New skills in jewellery design were developed under royal patronage. It was Raja Man Singh of Amer/Jaipur who is said to have brought in Persian minakari artisans to develop new designs for the ladies in his zenana. Sawai Jai Singh II brought a clutch of jewel-smiths to his new capital when he shifted from Amer. Long recognised worldwide as a top diamond and emerald-cutting hub, Jaipur automatically created a niche for jewellery makers over the ages. It has a dedicated hub devoted to cutting and polishing precious stones using simple, unsophisticated machinery. Jaipur has emerged as one of the leading centres in the coloured gems segment. 

In the British Raj era, international designs too made a foray into the royal courts, with nobility investing fresh inspiration for the local jewellers. The city has a longstanding relationship with the royals for jewels, be it handcrafted in classic designs or modern styles. Minakari and kundan work in gold reached its zenith in enamel jewellery centres like Bikaner, Nathdwara and Udaipur. Doing brisk business always are the ornate kundan chokers, chaandbalis, bangles and maang tikas, all popular items for weddings and celebrations. Hookahs and paan-dans from the Mughal period frequently featured mina work. Minakari has now also surfaced on jewellery boxes, dining sets, trays, cupboards, bowls, sculptures and is now rendered in silver and copper as well. 

Minakari work on a serving dish
Minakari work on a serving dish Shutterstock

Once almost lost, the delicate thewa jewellery—gold filigree work on glass— which is indigenous to Pratapgarh, is gaining recognition in international markets as well as among savvy jewellery connoisseurs. Silver ornaments for both men and women have always had a ready market, be it in the urban centres or the rural landscapes. Colourful bangles made from lac (both plain and ornamented) make popular souvenirs also. 


A traditional miniature painting from Rajasthan
A traditional miniature painting from Rajasthan Shutterstock

An integral part of Rajasthani culture, painting is richly endorsed in its different avatars here. Miniature paintings are richly represented in Rajasthani art. Court patronage was responsible for the high finesse achieved in the medium. The popularity of miniature painting was translated in the mushrooming of styles distinctive to various regions of the state. Thus, it saw the development of the Kota-Bundi School, the Marwar School, the Mewar School, the Jaipur School, the Bikaner School and the Kishangarh School. The Kishangarh School of Painting—in which the women have sharp features and exaggerated eyes—is well known. Paintings in this style are now available in most Rajasthani towns. 

Bikaner is also where the distinguished tradition of Usta Painting has flourished since times immemorial. The sophisticated art form is known all over the world for its versatility in terms of the surface it is carried out upon, be it camel hide, stone and metal, and is known by names such as Manoti and Naqqashi work. Gemstone painting was introduced about a couple of centuries ago, when semi-precious stones started to be used in place of artificial/vegetable colours. With gemstones in abundance in the state, this art was easy to practise, and gems such as agate, amethyst, citrine, jade, lapis lazuli and malachite among others were sourced. Based on the colour that was needed, the stones were ground and pasted by trained craftsmen on the canvas, which, in this case, happened to be sheets of marble, glass or acrylic. The outline, however, is created using watercolours. 

Bone Carving and Horn Work
As against the rather valued seep-ka-kaam of the state, bone work is a more preferred craft now since it involves less wastage of material, takes less time, and bone doesn’t chip as easily as mother-of-pearl. Humanely acquired horn (usually from bovines like cows and buffaloes) is deftly fashioned into ittardanis, combs, ashtrays and bangles, followed by ornamentation with delicate filigree work. Both of these materials form the basis for a wide array of articles including sword and dagger handles, elephant howdahs, tumblers, salvers, hukkah bases, and toys shaped like animals. They are also used to make the bartana, a unique paper knife-like tool that is used to de-stress by passing it between the forehead and the turban. Horn-and bone-work is practised mainly in cities like Jaipur, Bikaner, Ajmer, and Jodhpur—the last one famous for its arm-to-shoulder bangles that are embellished further with materials like glass beads, gold leaf, seashell pieces and coloured lace.