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Art & Crafts in Madhya Pradesh

A Rich & Vibrant Tradition

In the heartland of India lies the State of Madhya Pradesh. Filled with lush forests, magnificent monuments, exuberant festivity and blissful solitude. In this land of wonderful and contrasting variety, handicrafts lend a touch of mystique - a charm unique to Madhya Pradesh. They radiate an aura, exhibit hereditary skills, whisper painstaking craftsmanship and evoke an urgent desire to learn more about the land and its colourful people.

A deftly woven silk or a cotton blended saree. Block printed fabrics, stuffed leather toys or floor coverings. Folk paintings, bamboo, cane or jute. Woodcraft, stonecraft, ironcraft. Metalcraft, terra-cotta, papier mache. Zari work (gold thread embroidery), ornaments, dolls... each hand-crafted product of Madhya Pradesh is charming enough to sweep you off your feet.

Bamboo & Cane

Bamboo & Cane occupy an important place in rural life: utility articles such as agricultural implements, fishing traps, hunting tools and baskets are made of bamboo. In Madhya Pradesh these are generally made by a community called Basor or Basod, who sell them in weekly markets.

Shahdol, Balaghat, Mandla and Seoni regions of Madhya Pradesh are main bamboo producing centres. The artisans have skillfully harmonised their age-old knowledge and techniques with new designs, to meet modern market demands. The Gond, Baiga and Korku tribal communities are highly skilled in the craft of bamboo.

Dolls

Cute little dolls made out of small cloth pieces are produced in Gwalior, Bhopal and Jhabua. The work of Battobai, a craftswoman from Gwalior has achieved international fame.

The dolls made here are interesting pieces of work, influenced by different cultures and traditions of India mirroring the diversity and uniqueness of the country.

Floor Coverings

Durries
The floor coverings of Madhya Pradesh consist mainly of durries and carpets in a rich variety of designs. A durrie, essentially a thick cotton woven fabric, is meant for spreading on the floor, and is made all over Madhya Pradesh, especially near Sironj.

The basic technique of weaving a durrie in its most primitive form, can be seen in rural areas. The more universal durries are made by women in their homes, in the 'Punja' technique. They are usually in bold patterns and bright colours with folk designs.

Apart from Sironj, Jhabua, Jabalpur and Shahdol are leading centres of durrie weaving in Madhya Pradesh.

Cotton and woollen punja durries, handwoven in various colours are designed to suit traditional as well as modern home decor. Patterns are generally based on kiln designs, geometric traditional motifs & animal and human figures.

Carpets
Since the Mughal times, Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh has carved a niche for itself in the weaving of carpets.

Later on, weaving also began in the Shahdol & Mandla belt. The carpet weavers of Madhya Pradesh are undisputed masters of not only weaving carpets but dyeing also.

The colouring was earlier done by means of natural dyes, but presently it is being done with synthetic dyes as well. Pattern is an integral part of knotted carpets and traditional patterns have continued with varying combinations since the last 200 years.

Woollen carpets are available in vibrant colours with both floral and geometric designs. The weavers have used their ingenuity to transform traditional motifs into modern designs; drawing from the treasury of ancestral motifs: trees and flowers in carefully blended colours..

Folk Paintings

Throughout different periods of history, we find a definite established tradition of painting on various objects, particularly on intimate objects of everyday use, floors and walls; and in almost every instance the depiction being associated with some ritual.

Folk paintings of Madhya Pradesh, specially the wall paintings of Bundelkhand, Gondwana, Nimar and Malwa are living expressions of people, intrinsically linked with the socio-cultural ambiance of the area. They are not mere decorations but also spontaneous outpourings of religious devotions.

The paintings, based on local festivals like Karwa Chauth, Deepawali, Ahoi Ashtami, Nag Panchmi, Sanjhi etc. are usually done by women using simple home made colours.

In Bundelkhand, painting is usually done by a caste of professional painters called Chiteras. In the paintings, mud plaster base is used, over which linear patterns are etched with fingers: the process is called 'Lipai'. The women of the Rajwar community are specialists in 'Lipai', whereas Pando & Satnami communities make linear designs similar to a woven fabric.

The Bhils and Bhilala tribes of Madhya Pradesh paint myths related to creation called Pithora paintings. Horses, elephants, tigers, birds, gods, men and objects of daily life are painted in bright multicoloured hues. In the Gondwana region, unmatched creative vision has been shown by the Gond and the Pardhan tribes who have impressed audiences at exhibitions in Japan, France, Australia and other countries.

The Malwa, Nimar and Tanwarghar regions of Madhya Pradesh are known for their Mandana wall and floor painting traditions. Red clay and cow dung mixture is used as base material to plaster the surface against which white drawings stand out in contrast. Peacocks, cats, lions, goojari, bawari, swastik and chowk are some motifs of this style.

Iron Craft

The tradition of iron craft in Madhya Pradesh has been passed down from generation to generation and stands unmatched in skill and creativity.

In the interiors of Madhya Pradesh villages, the craftspersons practise traditional skills and techniques to craft iron in myriad inimitable forms. Iron crafting begins with obtaining iron ore from local mines which the ironsmiths mould into various shapes and forms. Gond, Muria, Bhatra, Dhruva tribals, practise the tradition of offering horses, swings, trishuls etc. made out of iron, to gods on fulfilment of their wishes. There is also a custom of gifting to daughters exquisitely carved "Deeyas" on their wedding. Keeping pace with changing times and tastes of buyers, today craftspersons produce various objects: birds, carved deeyas, candle stands, lattice, furniture, lamps and decorative items, each piece an object'd'art enabling the craft to reach its zenith. Tribal statues have come to occupy a very special place in modern day interior decoration and tribal artisans have won the recognition they so rightly deserve.

Jute

Next to cotton, jute is the cheapest and most important of all textile fibres. It is used extensively in manufacturing different types of packaging material for agricultural and industrial products. Its coarse character has a unique charm while natural colour, heavy texture and twilly kind of body typify its earthiness.

Jute handicrafts are available at Bhopal, Indore and Gwalior. The items include hanging lamps, baskets, flower vases, swings, hammocks, purses, table mats and footwear etc.

Metal Craft

Emerging from the fogs of time, steadfast with centuries of changeless tradition, yet keeping tune with contemporary styles, the Metal Craft of Madhya Pradesh stands apart, in concept and workmanship alike.

Metal ornaments boxes, lamps, rice measure bowls animal figurines are a few examples of the ingenuity of craftspersons of Madhya Pradesh.

These metal images invested with peculiar indigenous socio- religous history are considered auspicious.

Ornaments

The folk jewellery of Madhya Pradesh is most distinctive, highly artistic, elaborate and varied. The various cultural regions have their own distinct styles.

Jewellery is available in a variety of gold, silver, bronze and mixed metal. Other major centres for folk ornaments are Tikamgarh, Jhabua and Sheopur-Kalan. Ornaments made of beads, cowries and feathers are part of tribal costumes. Tribal metalsmiths often fashion ornaments by the age old process of cire perdue casting, or lost wax process. For each technique, there is a specialised craftsperson whose family has been practicing this hereditary craft for over three to four generations. The rural and tribal women folk of Malwa and Nimar regions in Madhya Pradesh are exceptionally fond of ornaments, and both men and women wear ornaments.

Papier Mache

Papier Mache, a craft practised since time immemorial, finds expression in varied forms. In Madhya Pradesh, the main centre for papier mache is Ujjain, but it is also practised in Gwalior, Bhopal and Ratlam.

The Nagvanshi community, which makes mud toys and dolls, is also engaged in making of papier mache articles. The traditional expression of this craft was the creation of ornate articles like vases, figurines and icons. Today, craftspersons in Bhopal and Gwalior make statues, birds, animals and decorative panels. In Ujjain, the craft of papier mache brings to life different kinds of splendidly crafted birds with the artisans using natural colours to create exact replicas of living birds. Presently, the craftspersons are also experimenting with ways of creating decorative pottery and furniture in papier mache.

Stone Carvings

India's stone carving tradition is perhaps one of the richest in the world. Guilds of masons and stone carvers have existed since the 7th century B.C. A system of apprenticeship was initially prevalent. Later skills were handed down as family lore, from father to son. The famous rock cut temples of Vidisha, the sculptured stone temples of Khajuraho, the monuments of Orchha and Gwalior, all stand testimony to the excellence and originality of the stone carvers of Madhya Pradesh.

Each region has a distinct style. Gwalior specialises in jalli (lattice) work, Jabalpur and Tikamgarh in decorative items such as statues of animals and human figures.

Stuffed Leather Toys

Delightful looking in various forms, skillfully crafted and gaily painted, the stuffed leather toys of Madhya Pradesh are very attractive.

Leather work has been practiced since a number of years in Madhya Pradesh. Craftspersons in Gwalior, Indore and Dewas specialise in making leather shoes, jutties, leather bags, mushk etc. With time the craft has evolved and given rise to new products. Today, Indore and Dewas are making leather garments & Gwalior is making shoes on a big scale.

Terracotta

Pottery has been called the lyric of handicrafts. It symbolises man's first attempt at craftmanship. The colours of terracotta articles and figures vary from pink, red, brown to light and dark grey. The terracotta products of each region in Madhya Pradesh have their own identity and distinctiveness.

The art of moulding terracotta in Madhya Pradesh shows a mature ability, the pantheon being even more varied and localised. In the rural areas, it is common to see terracotta animal figures placed under trees and in shrines made by potters. The famous traditional statues of elephants, serpents, birds and horses are incomparable in simplicity. The lifesize images of human forms are among the finest examples of Bundelkhand terracotta.

Textiles

The textiles of Madhya Pradesh are a part of the rich heritage of India. The weaving, printing and colouring of textiles of Madhya Pradesh have been influenced by the bordering States of Orissa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, but at the same time they have developed their own distinctive style and individuality.

Hand Block Printing
Hand block printing is among the important crafts of Madhya Pradesh. The popular colours used in this process are vegetable and natural dyes like Indigo, turmeric roots, pomegranate skin, lac, iron, and other substances that create an effect that is rich yet subtle. These natural colours do not fade easily, permeate the fabric and lend it an attractive look. The Malwa and Nimar regions are renowned for their hand block-printed cotton textiles.

Bherongarh near Ujjain, has large printer communities who specialise in lugda, jajams, oudhnis and quilts. These printed quilts were also presented in the court of Mughal Emperor Akbar and were exported to Europe during the pre-independence days by the East India Co. Today in Bherongarh, a range of hand block-printed products like sarees, dupattas, dress material, bed sheets, pillow covers, table cloths are available.

Jawad specialises in Nandana prints which consist of traditional motifs in fast colours. In Tarapur and Umedhpur, indigo is still used in printing.

The printed textiles of Bagh located in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, are the piece-de-resistance of hand block-printing. These are created by a community of printers called 'Chheepa' derived from the Hindi word "chhapna" meaning printing. The printers of Bagh as well as Kukshi and Manawar use vegetable and natural dyes, specially extracted from roots of "Aal" or madder. The resultant colours are bright shades of red and black and also occasional indigo. The blocks are made of intricately stylized motifs, which have evolved over hundred of years. These prints have a tonal and a three dimensional effect which is impossible to replicate in the screen printing or machine printing process. Bagh printing - a connoisseur's choice, has become a national and international favourite.

The other important printing centres in the State are Ujjain, Indore and Mandsaur.

Tie & Dye
The art of tying and dyeing fabric is known as Bandhani or Bandhej in Madhya Pradesh. This delicate technique represents the earliest forms of resist patterning. In this process, parts of the fabric are tied with thread or twined into minute knots and then dipped in dye. Mandsaur produces excellent bandhanis. In Indore and Ujjain also, craftspersons produce exquisite samples of tie and dye.

Batik
Batik is a resist process in which the fabric is painted with molten wax and then dyed in cold dyes. Batik is done on a large scale in Indore and Bherongarh. Multi coloured and variously designed Batik sarees are popular and attractive for their contrast colour schemes. Apart from sarees, dress material, bed sheets, lungis, dupattas etc. are also made here.

Weaving
Madhya Pradesh is famous for its delicate weaves in Chanderi and Maheshwari sarees.

In Chanderi, traditional craftspersons used silk as warp and fine cotton as weft. The Chanderi cotton sarees are ideal summer wear. Usually in subtle hues, they have a sophistication hard to match. In the silk "Zari" sarees, craft influences of the Varanasi style are visible. The sarees generally have a rich gold border and two gold bands on the pallav. The more expensive sarees have gold checks with lotus roundels all over which are known as butis.

Maheshwar on the banks of Narmada, is an important centre. The Maheshwari saree, mostly in cotton and silk, is characterised by its simplicity. The body is either chequered, plain or has stripes, combined with complementary colours. The reversible border of the saree which can be worn either side, is a speciality. It has a variety of leaves and flowers on the border, in karnphool pattern, which is quite popular. The pallav of Maheshwari saree is also distinctive with five stripes, three coloured and two white alternating. Nowadays these sarees are made in natural and artificial silk as well.

Woodcraft

The art of wood carving has flourished in many parts of Madhya Pradesh, and the beautifully embellished wooden ceilings, doors and lintels with finely carved designs are silent testimonials of its glory.

The wood carvers of Madhya Pradesh, with great sensitivity and skill transform different varieties of wood such as shisham, teak, dhudi, sal and kikar into works of art. Besides the famous wooden memorials, the craftspersons of Malwa, Nimar and Bundelkhand, Sheopur-Kalan, and Rewa also make pipes, masks, doors, window frames and sculptures. Madhya Pradesh also offers a variety of painted and lacquered woodcraft items such as toys, boxes, bedposts, cradleposts and flower vases. The major centres of this art are Gwalior, Sheopur-Kalan (Morena), Rewa and Budhni (Raisen).

Zari Work
The craft of Zari work is concentrated in Bhopal, which is famous for its exquisite craftsmanship. Also practised in Gwalior and Indore, its origin can be traced back to 300 years. Today traditional articles have been replaced by modern purses, bags, tea cozies, and "jutties" or slippers.

 

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