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Special Content

Issue no 44, 29 January - 04 February, 2022

Handmade Tales: Celebrating Crafts of India

Handicraft is processing materials by hand with hand tools. The results can be useful or decorative items. The materials utilised in the product are natural, industrially processed or may be recycled. The models of the product are ancient, revised, traditional or fashionable. In their product, the crafters transfer an area of their cultural heritage in ideas, forms, materials and work ways, as their own values, philosophy of life, fashion and self-image. India has a rich tradition of handicrafts. They showcase the country’s varied culture, customs and traditions of their native regions and enable people to understand and appreciate the diversity that is India. Let’s take a look at some of the types of Indian handicrafts that get their uniqueness from the regions and cultures they are prepared by.

Clay/Soil Crafts

Being one of the most basic materials found in every corner of the country, soil/clay has been used for making earthenware, figurines, bricks, tiles, beads, etc. Objects made of soil/clay are one of the earliest artefacts found during excavations of archaeological sites as early as the chalcolithic period and continue to exist in the present times.

Terracotta is one of the oldest crafts that human beings have introduced on this earth. It was once considered to be the poor man's craft. But in course of time, it has made its access and occupied a distinct identity among all classes of people by its aesthetic value. This style of clay art is used to make terracotta jewellery, which is a very important element of terracotta art in India. The styles of terracotta jewellery items, such as earrings, bracelets, and hoops, are inspired by mythology, nature, ancient motifs, and geometrical patterns. The beautiful terracotta works are also used for decoration. People across the country use clay to make pratimas of Gods and Goddesses for various festivals and rituals.

Mud and Mirror Work (also known as LippanKaam) is a traditional mural craft of Kachchh, Gujarat, India. Lippan or mud-washing, using materials locally available in the region like a mixture of clay and camel dung, keeps the interiors of the houses cool. These scintillating murals bring life, gaiety, and beauty to the generally harsh life of the people of Kachchh. Decorative wall pieces with small mirrors are also made using the same technique.


During ancient times the earthenware was the main item that was used for cooking and storing water and other items. Earthenware is made out of a special type of soil/clay. The art of Indian pottery began with the Indus Valley Civilisation. Pottery and earthenware are useful items and often decorative. There is proof of pottery making, both handmade and wheelmade, from all over India. One unique example of handmade pottery (crafted without a potter’s wheel) is black earthenware crafted by the Tangkhul tribe of Manipur, known as Longpi pottery. Nizamabad black clay pottery (Uttar Pradesh), Khavda pottery (Gujarat), papier mache pottery (Jammu and Kashmir) are some other examples of pottery popular in the country.


An ancient Indian art involving the process of decorating fabric with materials like threads, pearls, beads, quills and sequins, embroidery is a broad term for the handicrafts of decorative stitching and textile arts. Anything that uses a needle for crafting is known as embroidery. The fabrics and decorating material used in traditional embroidery vary from region to region.

For example, Danka embroidery is a centuries-old metal embroidery from Rajasthan. The term ‘danka’ is used to refer to small pieces of metal (originally gold or silver). The fabric is stretched on a wooden frame and the danka pieces are stitched on it as per the design with strands of gold and silver strands. Aari embroidery (Jammu & Kashmir) is specifically done on a stretched fabric. The needle, with a hook at the end, is called an aari. The stitching is done with silver or golden threads known as zari, and is embellished with beads and stones. Zardozi (Uttar Pradesh) is a type of heavy metal embroidery on velvet, satin and silk fabrics. Gold and silver threads are used to create designs along with pearls, beads, stones, etc. Earlier, real gold and silver were used but now gilded wires are used for this embroidery.

Kantha (West Bengal) embroidery is executed on layers of old clothes stitched together, traditionally old white cotton saris. On this, different coloured threads are embroidered using a simple running or chain stitch. Motifs used are flowers, birds, animals etc. In the applique technique (Odisha), pieces of fabric are cut and folded into little shapes and then stitched on the base fabric. It is further decorated with mirror and thread work. The motifs are geometric, abstract, and stylised.

Chamba Rumal is a pictorial craft, done on a square rumal or handkerchief, which originated and flourished during the 17th18th centuries in Chamba town Himachal Pradesh. The “dorukha-tanka” (the double satin stitch) that is used in the Chamba Rumal embroidery is unique, which is not noticed anywhere else in Indian embroidery tradition. The motifs on it get inspiration from the flora and fauna of the Himalayan region and Pahari paintings of Lord Krishna. Sujani (Bihar) is a thread embroidery that is traditionally carried out on layers of old white cotton saris that are stitched together in white thread. The motif is inspired by daily life. The embroidery layout is such that each piece of Sujani tells a story.

Lambadi (Andhra Pradesh) is basically a thread embroidery done over a base fabric of red or blue colour. Further embellishments are done using mirrors, cowrie shells, silver trinkets, beads and coins. Soof Embroidery is practised in the Kutch region of Gujarat. This style of embroidery makes use of triangle designs. The motifs are not drawn, rather carefully counted on fabric by the artisan and worked in reverse. At times, mirror work or shisha is also combined with the designs, giving the fabric a rich look.

Phulkari (Punjab) is a thread embroidery and involves bright colours. ‘Phul’ means flower and ‘kari’ means work. Although Phulkari means floral work, the designs include not only flowers but also cover motifs and geometrical shapes. Motifs used are inspired by objects of everyday use like rolling pins, flowers, vegetables, birds, animals etc. The main characteristics of Phulkari embroidery are the use of darn stitch on the wrong side of coarse cotton cloth with coloured silken thread. Phulkari is a skilful manipulation of a single stitch that provides an interesting pattern on the cloth. Parsi Embroidery (Maharashtra), practiced by the Parsi community, is a technique where light pastel-coloured threads are embroidered on a dark-coloured base fabric, usually red, purple, blue, magenta and black colour to create a contrasting pattern.

Shell Crafts Seashell is the outer case of soft-bodied animals called molluscs. After the animals living inside have dried up, the shells are collected and graded according to colour and shape and used in decorative items. This art of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands could be best seen in their crafts made of shells. These shells are used for making beautiful and colorful ornaments. Nature has bestowed Andaman and Nicobar Islands with a rich variety of shells and a wide range of decorative shells are made on this island. There are almost every sort of shell found on the shores of the islands. The Conch Shell and Tortoise shell of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are the most important and valued shells.

 Kachchh has a long coastline and thus making use of the seashells have been in demand among all products that have been designed by the localites, like using shells and conches for the clothing to make it heavy and unique. Also, some colorful shells are made use in toys as it gives the product a more captivating look. Birds, animals, plants, agarbatti stands and figures of Gods and Goddesses are prepared by joining the appropriate coloured shells with an adhesive. Later eyes, nose, ears, garments etc are painted with oil paints. Seashell handicrafts are found in the coastal regions across the country. Theatre Crafts Theatre has many crafts which make them a successful performance tradition, be it stage-crafts where carpentry, carvings, paintings, etc., are involved or costume design and jewellery, facial masks and depending on the tradition, many other crafts may be involved. Traditional societies have integrated various art forms into their practice. Crafts have traditionally been used in performance and different traditional crafts have become a part of contemporary theatre such as the following: masks, head-dresses, lightweight jewellery, sceneries, and stages.

Masks, those magical objects with which we cover our faces and assume a different identity, have a rich and varied tradition in our country. From the delicate pastel coloured masks and shimmering head-dresses worn by Chhau dancers for their variety of characters, different expressions, flamboyant colours to the demon dance masks of the Buddhist monasteries of Ladakh and the inexpensive animal masks of papier mache popular in our cities during festivals and fairs, India has a vast and ancient tradition of masks for rituals and theatre.

Besides these, there are the expressive headgears worn by Kathakali dancers. This particular item is designed for the part played by the dancers.

Puppetry is an ancient and well-known form of folk entertainment. The puppets are large dolls that are made of wood and string puppets and decorated in traditional costumes. Apart from the wood and string puppetry, India has a rich tradition of shadow/leather puppets. Leather puppets are made out of the hides of goats, deer and buffalo. The skin is treated with herbs and oils, and then beaten till it becomes translucent. The different parts of the puppet’s body are separately cut out of this skin. Minute elaborate shapes are punched in the skin to delineate the gorgeous costumes and jewellery of each figure. They are then dyed and the eyes are carved out at the last, which symbolises bringing the figures to life. Shadow puppets are flat figures. They are pressed against the screen with a strong source of light behind it. This tradition of shadow puppets survives in Orissa, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

Natural Fibre Weaving Fibres are hair-like materials that are continuous filaments or are in separate elongated items, the same as items of thread. They can be spun into filaments, thread, or rope. They can be used as a part of composite materials. They can even be matted into sheets to create products like paper or felt. Natural fibres such as grass, bamboo, banana, shola pith, cane, jute, leaves etc. have varied usages from making/ weaving baskets, mats, brooms, clothing etc. By and large, weaving from natural fibres is part and parcel of every region/ state. They are also a good substitute for plastic.

Shola pith, also called Indian cork, is a beautiful milky-white sponge wood that is finely carved by artists to create various artefacts. Sholapith, traditional craft of West Bengal, is popularly used to craft head wears of bridal couples, garlands, and images of gods and goddesses especially as backdrops during important festivals.

Bamboo and cane are used in many ways to make several articles that are used to decorate as well as those articles which people require in their day to day lives. Bamboo and cane are used to craft baskets, mugs, mats, flower vases, containers, weaving accessories, musical instruments, and household furniture items like morahs (small stools) and chairs. Dolls and toys are also made with bamboo and cane. All north-eastern states have rich traditions of handicrafts manufactured from these two natural fibres.

Banana fibre is a natural fiber that has a wide selection of uses in handicrafts product develop-ments like mat rope. The fibre is extracted from banana bark. Banana fibre can be used for creating varied product like coasters, mats, bags, runners, and home furnishings.

Jute, or the golden fibre, is used to make decorative and utility products such as bags, file folders, wall hangings, etc. A key feature of jute is its ability to be used either independently or blended with a range of other fibres and materials. Jute weaving is popular in the eastern and north eastern India.

Compiled by: Annesha Banerjee and Anuja Bhardwajan Source: handicrafts.nic.in/ indiaculture.gov.in/NCERT/CCRT India/State Government portals