Handicrafts represent certain values and reflect a region’s culture and tradition. The handicraft sector is an important segment of the Indian economy and generates sizeable employment as well. The rural economy holds noteworthy significance in Indian economy and the handicraft sector accounts for an important share of the country’s export market. The total handicraft industry spans different regions and involves thousands of artisans. According to industry sources, there are more than 60,000 export houses dealing with handicrafts in India. Almost all Indian states have their own set of signature handicrafts that reflect the cultural and traditional ethos of that state. However, the sector has its set of problems as well. Low availability of technical support is a significant drawback though some advancement has been made and efforts are on to bridge the gap between demand and supply.
Ashok Majhi, a Dokra artist from Bardhaman, West Bengal, told BE, “The condition is not very bad right now since the government is actually promoting our work through different emporiums and ensuring better exposure of our work.”
Total export of handicrafts from India grew by 11.07% to reach $3.66 billion in FY 2016-17. During the FY 2017-18, the handicraft market raised an approximate amount of $3,555 million and shawls, textiles, and scarves performed well. Agarbatis and attars ranged at around $149.82 million and embroidered and crocheted goods were valued at around $506.17 million. Handicrafts and textiles are exported to different countries like the US, the UK, the UAE, and Germany among others and the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) is the government body operating under the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, which is responsible for promotion of the handicraft sector.
Geographically Specific Handicrafts
Handicrafts are handmade crafts or art which cannot be produced mechanically. Considering India’s diversity, every region has something specific to showcase from every nook and corner. Let us look into what different regions of India have to offer:
The use of vibrant colours is a common feature in this region’s handicrafts. The major handicrafts of northern India involve weaving, embroidery, pottery, carpet weaving and woodwork. Intricate designs made on shawls, handkerchiefs or even wall hangings are also famous from northern Indian states like Jammu Kashmir and Haryana. Kashmir is also known for making wooden items like jewellery boxes, room dividers, and fruit bowls. The state of Punjab is known for its special Phulkari embroidery. Delhi and Uttar Pradesh are famous for their gold thread embroidery, which is known as zardozi. Himachal Pradesh is known for carpets like karcha, chuktu and chugdan. Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh specialises in wooden furniture made from shisham, sal, and dudhi wood.
South Indian handicrafts have global demand. Woodcraft is highly popular from this part of India. Sandalwood and chandan carvings are high in demand. Channapatna from Karnataka and Kondapalli from Andhra Pradesh are known for its wooden toys. Kanchipuram silk of Tamil Nadu, Kerala’s ivory, bamboo mat paintings, Kathakali masks and dolls are some of the most famous exhibits of this region’s handicrafts. Southern states are also famous for their filigreed stone carvings. Andra Pradesh is famous for its metal craft known as Bidri. Pottery is also practised widely in southern India. Pottery from Karukurichi in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu is well-known.
Toupadana in Jharkhand showcases abstract wooden toys. Krishnanagar in West Bengal produces traditional clay dolls. West Bengal is also popularly known for its sarees and is especially famous for its Kantha embroidery and cotton weaving which is known as taant. The Baluchari sarees of West Bengal are also high in demand. They are available in vibrant varieties of red, purple and dark chocolate. Mask making is an important handicraft and is popular in the Purulia district of West Bengal. Chou, which is a traditional tribal dance form prevalent in this region, uses these masks. Bihar is known for its Madhubani paintings. Odisha is famous for its pure silver filigree work and Pipli mirror work. The terracotta of West Bengal is also widely popular. Eastern Indian states are also famous for their shola pith crafts. The state of Jharkhand is famous for hand carved wood work.
North Eastern Region
The north eastern states are home to different tribes and sub-tribes and are rich in tribal handicrafts. Arunachal Pradesh is famous for making carpets, masks, painted wood vessels, bamboo and cane crafts, weaving, wood carvings and jewellery. Assam excels in handloom weaving, cane, brass, shola pith, bell metal craft, ivory and wood-work. Manipur has contributed with its unusual blend of tribal traditions and Vaishnavism. Their textiles, strong bell metal bowls, cane and bamboo artefacts and mats made of spongy reeds reflect rich artistry. Nagaland has basketry, woodwork, pot making, products of shell and beads and artefacts made of bird wings and flowers. Meghalaya is known for products made of cane and bamboo. The state also has a unique practice of using pineapple fibre for making nets, bags and purses. Mizoram is well-known for weaving, bamboo and cane craft. Tripura offers a wide array of handicrafts but handloom is the most celebrated handicraft of the state.
Saurastra and Kutch in Gujarat are popular for their embroidery styles like kathi, heer, abhala which involves intricate mirror and appliqué work. Jamnagar in the same state produces exquisite crochet lace work and Bandhani. Pichwai of Nathdwara and gota work from Rajasthan is equally famous. Maharashtra’s Paithani saris, lahan choukada, motha choukada, gunja salai, teen dhari choukada and rasta choukada are highly coveted handicraft items. Bikaner’s painted pottery, Pokhran’s geometrical patterns and Alwar’s kagzi pottery are popular. Jaipur, Rajasthan boosts of Jadau and kundan jewellery. Wood carvings from Goa are a perfect mix of the Portuguese and Indian cultures.
Handicrafts reflect geographical realities of their regions of origin. They have been refined and perfected over the centuries by skilled artisans who have been handed down their skills through generations.
Majhi told BE, “Some people accept handicrafts in a great way. They use it as decorative items for their households. But it can gain more popularity if its availability is enhanced.”
The Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry is launching a mega campaign for promoting handicraft products. The campaign is aimed at promoting the artisans and the craft, as declared by Suresh Prabhu, Union Minister, Commerce and Industry Department. The Indian government has also increased the incentive rates under the Merchandise Export from India Scheme (MEIS) from 5% to 7%. This will help exporters to recover their input costs.
As on July 23, 2018, certain changes were made in the GST rates and the new slab was a major turnover for the handicrafts sector. There was a major cut in the tax rates for the handicraft sector thus making it beneficial for the artisans. Certain handicraft items will now be taxed at only 12% which were earlier taxed at 18%. The items taxed under the 12% slab are Handbags including pouches and purses, jewellery box, Wooden frames for painting, photographs, art ware of cork, stone art ware, stone inlay work, ornamental framed mirrors, glass statues, glass art ware, art ware of iron, art ware of brass, copper/ copper alloys, electro plated with nickel/silver, aluminium art ware, handcrafted lamps (including panchloga lamp), worked vege-table or mineral carving, articles of wax, of natural gums or natural resins or of modelling pastes. Certain handicraft and handloom products were even bought under the tax rates of 5%. They are handloom dari, knitted cap/topi (retail sale value not exceeding Rs. 1000), handmade carpets and other handmade textile floor coverings, handmade lace, hand-woven tapestries, hand-made braids and ornamental trimming in the piece and toran.
The number of artists practising the art of making handicrafts had started to fall and had dropped by nearly 30% in the past years. However, with renewed governmental focus on machinery and technological support, the handicraft sector can expect to grow but more efforts are needed to expand the ambit of availability of handicrafts in India.