Handicrafts are generally referred to as handmade crafts or artisan. India features amongst the top-most rated culturally rich countries in the world. Each has left their mark of style on traditional crafts. The craft industry of South India has established itself commercially in the nation and reflects a long history of foreign rule. The integrated tribal development agency, Bhadrachalam had given training to the local tribal groups in vocational training institute in Yatapaka, in making bamboo and wooden crafts, the toys, bison-horn dances of Koya tribal pairs, pen stands, terracotta goods, and decorative stones out of semi-precious stones. The hard form of bronze, which is usually used to make bells, referred as bell metal is a kind of interesting tribal handicraft of the South India. This kind of hard alloy is used to make crafts like vermilion boxes, bowls, candle stands, donari (pendants) and many more. Gujarat is renowned for its textile production methods. Bordering Rajasthan, the two states share similarities in culture and identity. The ancient Indus Valley Civilization inhabited the entire region, including Rajasthan and Punjab during Medieval India embarked on this textile industry in Gujarat. Within textile production, each caste is assigned to an occupation of its own like weaving, dyeing and printing. Muga Silk Mekhla, Tribal bags, Cane Morah, Jute products, wooden mementos, Brass Metal Dulori, Bell Metal Kahi Bati are some of the predominant tribal handicrafts of the North-East India.
Minor Forest Produce (MFP) is a major source of livelihood for tribal groups who belong to the poorest of the poor sections of society. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, has introduced an ambitious scheme of providing fair price for the MFP collected by tribal through Minimum Support price (MSP). The scheme has been started with the objective of providing fair returns to MFP gatherers, enhancing their income level and ensuring sustainable harvesting of the MFPs. Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation (TRIFED) has introduced a chain of 38 retail shops called TRIFED INDIA to give a platform to sell various tribal jewellery or home decor products directly to the consumers and the process ensures that tribal artists get a fair price. BE spotlights some tribal handicrafts across regions.
The word ‘Chamba Rumal’ implies a visual art form that represents unique and charming embroidery done on a hand spun cloth with untwisted silken thread, which is greatly inspired from pahari painting. The tradition of this kind of pictorial embroidery was known & practised in some areas of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu which remained once important centres of pahari painting. The cloth employed for the embroidery was generally unbleached muslin or khaddar. This craft originated and flourished in Chamba in the 17-18 century AD. Mainly the female workers create this amazing art works. The fabric used as carrier in Chamba rumal was hand spun & hand-woven cotton (khaddar) or fine muslin (mal-mal) of off-white colour. Off-white base of the fabric highlights the vibrant silken threads employed for filling up the drawing. “Gaddi-Gaddan” seemed by far the most popular theme for Chamba rumals. It is believed that Chamba was at the time inhabited by certain Koliyan tribes which were later subjugated by the Khasas. From the Gupta period (4th century AD) the Chamba region was under the control of Thakurs and Ranas who considered themselves superior to the low tribes of Kolis and Khasas. Much information about Himachal’s ancient history is given in epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and other scriptures like the Vedas and the Puranas. The Mahabharata mentions the Janapadas (kingdom) of Kuluta (Kullu), Trigarta (Kangra), Kulind (Shimla hills and Sirmaur), Yugandhar (Bilaspur and Nalagarh), Gobdika (Chamba) and Audumbar (Pathankot). All such mythological contexts are expressed in the art works of Chamba Rumal.
The traditional Sarai (made of Bell Metal), Jhapi, Rhino (the symbol of Assam) Memento of Kamakhya Temple, Rong Ghar, Dhol-Pepa Gagana and other various traditional items (made in wood) are some of the famous products of the north East India. The Wancho and Morung carvings were traditionally of three kinds. The Monpas are famous for their utensils, bowls, cups and ceremonial masks. The Khamtis of Arunachal Pradesh are known for their exquisite wooden images of Lord Buddha. The Lepchas and Bhutias of Sikkim make centre table, partition screens and chairs out of carved wood. Based out of Nagaland, this tribe makes really gorgeous crafts like baskets, bowls, decors, carved benches, shawls scarves and bags. Around 17 major Naga tribes in both eastern and western parts of the state are involves in this work. In Nagaland, woodcarving as an art form relates largely to architecture and ritual practice The Konyak, Phom, Khamti, Wancho, Nocte, Tanga and Monpa tribes from Nagaland are renowned for their art work in wood. Wood craft is traditionally practised only by male members of the community. But the women members of the families are equally involved in this craft today. A lot of animal motifs like those of tiger, elephant, monkey and snake were depicted in this form. Each animal is a symbol of a particular quality or character that was highly regarded in those times, like courage, strength, fighting prowess. Besides these, there were many other wood carved motifs that found place on the totem-like front posts. Diptendra Kumar Das, a wood carving artist, told BE, “Wood craft products are a bit costlier, but nowadays the market of the same is expanding gradually and it is catching up with the international market too”. He added that the ‘Biswa Bangla Hat’ of West Bengal is helping them by giving them stalls at handicrafts fairs for free of cost.
The black smithy and metallurgical skills of the tribal people is visible in their exquisite weapons, tools, musical instruments and jewellery. They have a strong warrior tradition, owing to which they produced many weapons, most notably spears and daos (a kind of broadsword). Dhokra Damar tribes are the traditional metal smiths of West Bengal and Odisha. Their non–ferrous metal technique of lost wax casting of copper-based alloys is named after their tribe, hence the Dhokra metal casting. The tribe extends from Jharkhand to West Bengal and Odisha. They are distant members of the Chhattisgarh Dhokras. Dhokra, or Dokra, craft from around Santiniketan, West Bengal, is also popular. Recently Adilabad Dhokra from Telengana got Geographical Indicator tag in 2018. The Bastar region, a district in Chattisgarh, is home to tribes who specialise in Dhokra handicraft. Its technique has been in India for more than 4,000 years. One of the earliest known Dhokra artifacts is the dancing girl of Mohenjo-Daro. These products are in great demand in domestic and foreign markets because of primitive simplicity, enchanting folk motifs and forceful form. Mukul Karmakar, who inherited the art work from his family tradition, said that nowadays the market of Dokra is expanding. While the government support is not much here, the changing taste of people is pushing the customers to buy their products, he said. Prabhat Majhi, an artist and ex-Biswabharati student, is transforming his artistic work from folk to a sculpture like modernised version of Dhokra. He sells his products through exhibitions. He shared with BE that he is “experimenting with the real life figures of lively beings in Dhokra instead of the traditional art works of the God or Goddess.”
The most famous tribal handicrafts of South India are bidri crafts, pembarthi crafts, vonipenta crafts, kondapally toys, leather crafts, etikoppaka crafts, kalamkari painting, nirmal crafts, bobbili veena, ikat, and durries, crochet lace, banjara crafts etc. Andh, Bagata, Bhil, Chenchu, Gondu, Jatapus, Kattunayakan, Porja, Reddi, Savaras, Sugalis, Thoti and Yenadis are few names of the tribal groups of this area. The Banjara community is believed to have descended from the Roma gypsies of Europe. They travelled across the rugged mountains of Afghanistan into the deserts of Rajasthan in north India. Thousands of years ago they migrated down into southern states including Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. ‘Banjara’ is the name given to this tribal group by the British during their rule. The Banjaras in Andhra Pradesh seems to evolve their exuberant clothes. Nomads in the past and the Banjaras today aggregate in the groups called tanda. Staying in communes, they still strive to preserve the fascinating traditions of their ancestors. Tattooed women with hands weighed down by ivory bangles, create the memorable mirror work in handmade fabrics which the Banjaras are famous for. This art work, Banjara craft, is practised mostly by women of the tribes like Kattunayakan, Jatapus, Porja, Savaras, Thoti, Sugalis of Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh. This art work is also famous in Chittorgarh, Rajasthan. An off-shoot of banjara needle work is the fantastic range of artistic pieces like bags, belts, batwas, skirts, blouses, bed spreads, cushion covers, table covers, wall hangings and many more like this. Crafts associated with bamboo and canes have generally been carried out by different tribal societies in Andhra Pradesh since ancient times.
The government handicraft shops like Lepakshi, Biswa Bangla, Rajasthali, Garvi Gurjari, Manjusha, Pragjyotika Assam Emporium and Purbashree are trying to revive the tribal arts from all over India. Pashmina Shawls, Woodwork, Pottery, Leather, Jute, Shell, Brass handicrafts, Bamboo handicrafts, Phulkaris, Zardozi, Carpet weaving, Terracotta are being exported in the international market hugely via those shops and online portals today. On the other hand, TRIFED is also helping the tribes of India by vocational trainings, workshops and by sponsoring their works in the market. The tribes make the handicrafts as their livelihood option. But not only they earn from it, they live in these arts.