Crafts, a pantheon of inheritance value and mastery, are the stories passed through generations that offer colorfully caparisoned belle narrations. India is seen by the discerning not just as a country but as one that produced a rich civilization. Despite the ruptures of history, invasions, and foreign occupation, the Crafts of India kept holding the legacy in many respects. The sustainability and viability of the crafts’ sector have become a necessity, particularly in an age of rapid communication and global change. As a highly decentralized activity, it provides local manufacturing capabilities with a very low capital outlay while adding much of a value and wealth creation resting on the use of human skill and local knowledge harvested over many generations of craftsmen. 

The panorama of Indian crafts celebrates many hues and shades of meaning that reflect interactions with social, economic, cultural, and religious forces. The traditional crafts manifest themselves in the temple architecture of the region as well as in the ubiquitous household products crafted with ingenuity from local materials and skills. 

Here is an extensive list of few great traditional crafts of India.

1. Wood Carving | Crafts of India

The technique of carving is one of humanity’s earliest creative expressions. Ancient Indian scriptures contain informed techniques of the woodworker- including advice on how to cut the tree to propitiate tree spirits, and the recognized proportions for a particular sculpture. From walnut wood carving, Pinjrakari & Khatumband in Kashmir, woodwork of Dharamshala, intricately carved Havelis of arid Barmer and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan, Kasta Kari of Goa, traditional temple buildings in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, a wood carving of Madurai, to Marapani wood carving of Kerala the old buildings of India contains a feast of inspirational diversify wooden carvings. India is swathed with varieties of carving techniques of woodwork, particularly to its place and form. The different states of India contain enclaves of master craftsmen specialized in woodwork.

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Patwa Haveli, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan ©
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Walnut wood carving of Kashmir ©
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The detailed wooden Vyaliin Kerala ©

2. Stone Masonry | Crafts from India

From the preparation of simple small stone utensils to grandiose temple commissions, a tradition of stone masonry has evolved over the centuries that pervades the whole of the Indian subcontinent. The early sacred texts of art and architecture, such as the Mayamatha and the Shilpa Shastra sets out the desired measurements and techniques for sculpting as well as requirements concerning the quality, color, texture, maturity, and even gender (tonal qualities of stone) of stone. The renowned craftsmanship of the Silavat communities of mason near Thar district is a revelation. Most striking architectural features of houses, follies, and palaces, the jaali work to idol making, stone carving is flowing dexterity that offers a wealth of intricately decorated surfaces. Idols of various Hindu and Jain deities are carved out of marble sourced from Makrana, Bhainslana, and Jhirri, a village in the Alwar district. The famed Taj Mahal is a fine example of the pearly clarity, luster, and fine texture of the marble utilized to maximum effect.

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Carvings on the marble wall in Taj Mahal, Agra ©Wikipedia Commons
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Parshwanath Temple, Khajuraho ©Wikipedia Commons

3. Painting | Crafts in India

The Mesolithic and Neolithic eras mark the earliest evidence of people’s desire to record their life and surroundings in India found in the cave paintings of the north. Scenes of hunting, dancing, and farming are the paintings displaying a rite and narrative. Even today, these paintings show a vital, unbroken, and continuously evolving tradition. The high Indian culture of painting has its roots in religious institutions and the monuments of the patrons of the great empires. The earliest of these forms are the exquisite Buddhist frescoes that decorate the walls of Ajanta caves in western India, tradition of temple painting in the south to palm leaves, woodblocks, and cloth in the north until the introduction of the paper in the twelfth century. The painting of household walls is a vibrant, lively, and seasonal activity throughout India. India holds significant painting artistry from Warli paintings of Maharashtra, Rajasthani wall painting, wall and floor painters of Madhubani in Bihar, Pichhwai temple hangings, paintings in the Mithila region of Bihar, cloth paintings of Rajasthan to painted pictures on wood, paper, and glass.

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Warli painting ©
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Madhubani painting ©
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Buddhist fresco in Ajanta caves ©

4. Metal Work

From literary writings, especially the Rig Veda (c. 1000 BC), it is clear that copper and bronze works had reached the level of specialized science, and the craftsmen involved were highly respected members of the society. The traditional copperware of Kashmir displays high ornamentation with a profusion of stylized floral and leaf forms, religious symbols (such as the mihrab or prayer arch), geometric and calligraphic patterns, as well as elaborate hunting scenes. The indigenous metalworks of Ladakh, Tibetan metalwork, Thattar ka Kaam- sheet metal work of Kullu, brassware of Moradabad and silver wares, damascening and metal engraving of Udaipur, Combination of ubharnaqqashi or repoussé with jaal ka kaam or openwork of Lucknow and much such small craft of metalwork still continues its glory in many parts of India.

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Brassworks of Moradabad ©
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Traditional copperware of Kashmir ©
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Chola Bronze of Nataraja, circa 950 – 1000 CE ©

5. Textiles | Crafts from India

Link to a short video on Sozni embroidery:

From the pre-Roman times to the present day, the dyeing and patterning of cloth have been the most desired of India’s crafts. The first literary information about textiles in India can be found in Rigveda, known as weaving. The extraordinary range of textiles available in India reflects in part the varying ability of different cultures to adapt established techniques and constantly changing styles to meet the current needs of the ever-flourishing homes and export markets. Since ancient times, India had numerous trade links with the outside world and Indian textiles were popular. Many famous national and international fashion brands collaborate with traditional textile industries today. From cloth dyeing to cloth printing, to weaving to embroidery, every part of the country weaves a different creative story, each region weaving a distinctly different pattern.

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A fabric map of Indian states ©
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Kashmiri Pashmina shawl ©

6. Pottery | Crafts of India

The most sensual form of all arts is pottery. The tradition of handmade pottery is prevailing in India since the time of the Harappan Civilisation. The potter occupies a unique position in the craft traditions of India as it participates in the rhythmical vocation that takes quiddity of the earth itself, gives it a form as it rises from the center of the spinning wheel, and creates an object of beauty that will be returned to the soil after a life of daily utility, before being regenerated into new forms. It is no wonder therefore that so many tales are told of the potter’s origin, histories, and virtues. North India is known for various kinds of pottery designs, ranging from colors like orange, brown, and light red in Uttar Pradesh to black and dark red in Himachal Pradesh. In Rajasthan, Bikaner is famous for its painted pottery, blue pottery of Jaipur, Pokhran for its pottery with geometrical patterns, and Alwar for its Kagzi pottery. 

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Stopper for a black earthenware jug, inlaid with metal alloy imitating the visual effect of bidri ware: India, Azamgarh, early 1870s ©
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Blue pottery of Jaipur ©

7. The Craft of Papier-Mache | India Crafts

The craft, known by the French term Papier-mâché (literally paper pulp), is locally known as kar-e-kalamdani, pen casework, after its traditional Iranian name. The craft of shaping and molding products from paper pulp is practiced in several states of India, primarily due to the low costs of the raw material and tools required. While the highly sophisticated papier-mâché tradition of the Kashmir Valley may be considered one end of the spectrum, other expressions in this craft technique have included spontaneous and humourous toys, masks, and puppets. Papier-mâché was practiced as a form of decoration executed on the wooden panels of walls and wooden furniture and was eventually adapted to paper molds as well. The two major processes involved in the craft are sakth sazi (mold making) and naqqashi (painting). The naqqash renders the surface in intricate floral patterns or highly stylized scenes of hunts and battles.  

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Papier – Mache ©
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Papier – Mache ©India Mart

8. Carpet Weaving

Link to a video on Kilim carpet weaving:

The main carpet-producing areas of India today are Srinagar in Kashmir, Jaipur in Rajasthan, Amritsar in Punjab, Mirzapur, and Agra in Uttar Pradesh. Kashmir is most famous for hand-knotted and wool silk rugs. The intricacy of a Kashmiri carpet depends on the number of knots. It is usually handmade and hand-knotted. The art of carpet weaving in Kashmir is passed on through generations of traditional weavers who prefer to hand weave. The process involves the cultivation of the silk or wool, treating and dyeing it, deciding the pattern, weaving, and then adding the final touches. Nakaash is the person who designs the carper, a kalimba is a weaver and the ranger is the person who dyes the carpet.

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Carpet Weaving ©India TV
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Kaleen carpet ©Medium

Jinal is an architect whose goal is to create a vibrant time machine through her photography and writing for everyone to revisit some of the aspects of life. She is forever inspired by the nuances of nature and by the underpinning ideas of works of art.

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