Blessed is the garden where a thousand fragrant and colorful flowers bloom. This holds good for a beautiful country or rather a sub-continent we call India, one of the most ancient pre-biblical civilisations; not only were we responsible for spreading the light of ahimsa and knowledge worldwide, but an isolated positioning on the world map gave us ample time and resources to develop and refine our fine arts.

May it be the art of weaving, metallurgy, sculpting, textiles or ornamentation, our artisans imbibed the principles as established by Vishwakarma and took it to the next level, generation upon generation. It is to these unsung and unheralded maestros we dedicate our thoughts to.

To write about Indian artisans and the care in their craft is almost like writing about the country itself. So vast, complex and colourful, and yet with a simplicity and charm, difficult to attain under comparable conditions. Indian art and craft forms are popular world over since the wake of ancient civilisation. The artisans have transformed all the art forms from mere passion to exotic handmade crafts over the past few decades unconsciously by acquiring basic business acumen.

However, with the advent of increasing urbanisation of markets for crafts, the conventional artisan - consumer relationship has broken down, and largely been replaced. Design innovations in India’s fashion monopoly result from a fusion of modern technologies and traditional craft skills. The design process in fashion which begins with research and observation is combined with the uniqueness of a designer’s creation and lies in the interpretation of the viewer. Sources of inspiration exist everywhere; anything visual, natural, indeed sensual, can lead to inspiration in design.

In India the craft and design sectors share a collaborative relationship. Through craft, the designer connects with the rustic world and the collective past. Traditional craft skills are adapted to contemporary design. Hence, safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage as a means of livelihood is the only solution.

Eternal pashmina

Kashmir, the paradise on earth is well known all over the world not only for its natural beauty in the form of lakes, springs, mountains or meadows, but also for the handicrafts prepared by the their artisans. The art of shawl making has been imbibed from Turkistan over which Kashmiri artisans now hold expertise for generations. Amongst the array of fabrics, Pashmina which means soft gold is one of a kind. It is known for its finesse, warmth, softness, desirable aesthetic value and timelessness in fashion.

The people of the valley take pride in the ancient craft of Kashmiri weaving, from silk carpets to jamavar shawls this craft is the cynosure of a connoisseurs’ eye all over the world.

Bejewelled legacy

Spanning a bequest of 5,000 years, the artisanal jewelry of India is a striking expression of the country’s aesthetic and cultural history. From Golconda diamonds, sapphires from Kashmir and pearls from the Gulf of Mannar, merchants were drawn across land and sea to India. Immaculately crafted with precision and accuracy, kundan, jadau, meenakari and thewa jewellery are one of a kind and require highly skilled craftsmanship. Every age, every dynasty, every empire has its influence and essence in the art of jewellery design belonging to those times. These pieces of artisanal jewellery have been refined by generations of goldsmiths and lapidarist’s who have added their own unique style.

Traditional embroideries

Blessed with a myriad of cultures, traditions and religions, India is truly a land of wonders. It has imbibed through innumerable influences and settlements, embroidery from every region has a flavour of its own. Be it the robust hand work of Gujarat, the subtle and intricate weaves of UP’s chikankari or the vibrant hues of Punjab’s phulkari, each embroidery stands out for its unique style of stitches and use of fabrics, colours, motifs and patterns. Nurtured in the remote areas of India by humble craftsmen, our embroideries, today, have the world fawning over them.

Artisnal enamel

A type of coloured glass, clear and opaque, used for decorating metals like gold, silver, copper and bronze, enamel adorns many living rooms today. In India, Champlevé enamel has been in use since the advent of the Mughals. It is said that Emperor Akbar had a special department in his court for enameling. Skilled workers as they are, the Indian craftsmen created many fine pieces of Champlevé workmanship.

Bringing in the banarasi

The ancient history of textile designing takes us back to Banaras, Kashi and Varanasi. The most elegant brocades in silk and gold are woven by the weavers on a silk pit loom. Varanasi is best known for skilled weavers in brocade weaving known as kinkhabs. The wide variety of exquisite designs in this masterpiece makes it impossible to imitate the saris, as the loom is very intricate in construction. The origin of this old technique has been obscured by time, but the Mughal influence is seen in the motifs, which often depict floral patterns and hunting scenes.

Pottery and baskets from Khurja, bright coloured bangles from UP, pietra dura technique on the Taj Mahal or the bronze sculptures of the chola period; everywhere you turn there are artists and highly skilled craftsmen and women all congregated under one roof. They are keepers of our ancient myths and histories. They spend hours and hours immersed in their art, working as the silent foot soldiers, keepers of tradition, pageantry and cultural expressions.

But the question remains....is the artist getting his due?

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja is a feature writer at L'Officiel India. She is a silver jewellery hoarder and an aesthete of all arts. You can find her unraveling new stories day in and day out.