The skill and ingenuity of Indian craftsmen is expressed in textiles, metalware, paintings stone and wood carving and a host of other materials, such as pith and paper, beads and cane, sand and shell and laquer and terracotta Each region of India produces its own unique Handicrafts, continuing a great tradition which has endured over many centuries.

Kalamkari is the art of painting cotton fabrics with a kalam’ a pen made of pointed bamboo stick padded with hair o cotton. The colour or ink is prepared from vegetable dyes or minerals. The districts of Kalahasti and Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh are important centers for this tradition of fabric paintings. In the 17th century Kalamkari was exported to South-east Asia, Iran, the Persian Gulf and several countries in Europe, where the painted fabrics were highly popular as dress materials, draperies, bedspreads, in particular those with the floral motif called the Tree of Life.

Deep in the pristine sylvan region of Bastar (Chhatisgarh), Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal live tribal communities practicing the antique art of creating brass and bell metal figures using the ‘lost wax’ or cire-perdue method. Known as dhokra sculptures, unique of these regions, the exotic figures depict the local deities, the way of tribal life, animals and human figures..

A history of two millennia stands witness t the immense grace, plasticity and strength of the art of stone carving by master artisans. Granite has always been the most sought after material, though marble as well as wsandstone in various hues have also been freely utilized to create imposing temples, gigantic bas reliefs, divine images, exquisite ornamental palaces and varied objects of daily needs. Jaipur and Agra, the city of the Taj, are famous for stone inlay articles called pietra- dura.

Madhubani is the name of a remote place in Bihar near the ancient Mithila, celebrated for its distinctive school of painting. The artists, mostly rural women, have developed their unique style of art, depicting gods, religious themes and scenes of daily life. Using simple implements like cotton wrapped bamboo sticks for the brush and bright vegetable colours the paintings are drawn as bold and vibrant murals on the wall, or on smaller surface of cloth or paper – naiveté and simplicity are explicit in all the characteristic pictures.

Woven, embroidered, tie-dyed, hand painted, block-printed, appliquéd, mirror- worked or tinselled – the exotic varieties of Indian textiles and fabrics are endless. Patola, Paithani, Pochampalli, Kanchipuram, Tanchoi, Bandhani, Baluchari and Kantha are just a few names amongst the many Varieties of sarees that women in India still treasure. Kashmiri shawls, gabbas, namdas, scarves of the North-east and the Himroo from Aurangabad, Phulkaris of Punjab as well as the Saurastrian mirror- work embroidery are all coveted handicrafts in the treasure trove of Indian craftsmanship.

Photograph by P.K. De