From The Jacket
The history of India's crafts is a story of humankind's engagement with nature. Creative hands turned rock into objects of divinity, minerals into lamps to worship them, plants into woven textures to wear and waste materials into beautiful objects of everyday utility.
To honour Nature is to honour its creator and to mould object by hand is a mode of worship. The Indian crafts practitioner is therefore the greatest conservationist who craves to live in harmony with his environment. The plea to address issues of 'ecology' and 'environmental degradation' was born out of the minds of those who saw with horror the ravages of an over-industrialised society. This book is a response to such a plea and seeks to highlight the extraordinary, creative and peaceable relationship between the craftsperson and the environment. It also seeks to emphasise the need to respect it and cherish it, both for art's sake and for the protection of Nature's bounty.
This unique book describes the environment surrounding the major and minor crafts of India, offering a wealth of information to art, craft and Nature lovers.
Jiya Jaitly is a well-known speaker and writer on crafts. She is the founder president of the Dastkari Haat Samiti, a national association of Indian craft-persons. She has initiated many innovative programmes to promote awareness and respect for craftsmen and help them towards self-reliance and dignity. She created the concept of Dilli Haat, a unique and popular crafts marketplace in New Delhi, which is being replicated in other parts of India. She has written Viswakarma's Children, a collection of stories on the lives of India's craft-persons.
Siddhartha Das is a young and talented Indian photographer with a special interest in crafts.
Human beings have an extraordinary capacity to destroy as well as create from the environment. What we have not learned is to maintain this in a harmonious and balanced way. The industrial revolution, with all its scientific and technological innovations created a long period of excitement for those profiting from it. The larger population, too, benefited from new technologies ranging from machine-made textiles with synthetic yarn to plastics, aluminium and a variety of other industrial products. Unfortunately they were made in factories belching black smoke into the heavens or by depleting forests of valuable resources that had earlier maintained climatic conditions and prevented soil erosion. Chemical pesticides entered the earth and waters, and city buildings began to be covered with grime. Big corporate giants took over the daily occupations of simple fisherfolk by sending large trawlers out to harvest the sea and the farmer faced the onslaught of combine harvesters that did the work he had carried out for decades. This was the ugly side of development; the other side being the indomitable spirit of creativity and man's inextricable relationship to the elements of nature around him.
In recent times the science of the environment came to be called ecology and the technology of handwork is defined as craftsmanship. As industrialisation attempted to create a mono-culture, those with human and environmental concerns fashioned, quite unconsciously, an agenda of common interest. This was done not just for their own benefit but for the greater well-being of the larger population on our planet. Both Nature and the human being, creativity and resources, had to be recognised, preserved and celebrated. As the Western world awoke to these ideas anew, the Indian craftsperson looked up gently and smiled. He, and indeed, she, had seen living close to Nature and celebrating it through its balanced use, honing their skills, earning their living, embellishing their prayers and their festivals with the bounty they found in the stone, earth, grasses and other natural elements around them.
Industrial designers of fabrics and lifestyle products and professional craft practitioners across the world are looking at the environment anew. The Indian crafts-person looked up gently and smiled. He, and indeed, she, had been living close to Nature and celebrating it through its balanced use, honing their skills, earning their living, embellishing their prayers and their festivals with the bounty they found in the stone, earth, grasses and other natural elements around them.
Industrial designers of fabrics and lifestyle products and professional craft practitioner across the world are looking at the environment anew. The texture of the bark of a tree, the colour of desert sand, the dyes extracted from the skin of a pomegranate, the shades of a sunset are now sources of inspiration that guide a new sensibility. The simplest, illiterate and most humble rural artisan is looked at with new respect as a repository of traditional knowledge. He knows the qualities of certain plants and minerals and how they react to water and air. He knows the chemical reaction of natural colours on cloth that has been treated with urine collected from the cow in his backyard. His wife and daughter enjoy embroidering covers for the horns of the very same cow. The chain linking the land and the sky and the waters and all sentient beings are, for them, intrinsic and unchangeable. This book seeks to open the windows of their world so that all its readers celebrate creativity and its bond with Nature through the innovative fingers of the Indian craftspersons.
India, home to one of the most ancient civilisations, is a unique example of cultural and geographical diversities. Dissimilar cultural practices are deeply rooted in people's daily lives even in the 21st century. Indian history is the fruit of geography, and geography the root of history. The history of several millennia has merged with phenomenal geographical variations to create the incredible India of today.
India is incredible in its landscapes, and the people who adorn her. Its rituals and traditions; sculptures and paintings; dance, music and theatre; handicrafts, fairs and festivals; monuments and manuscripts; and its varied cuisine-each is a definite statement that only India can proudly pronounce.
Myriad streams and rivers have been flowing for centuries in their own special terrain, sometimes forceful, sometimes gentle. Despite all kinds of obstacles, they flow on. When these waters reach the ocean, they mingle, and become on huge ocean. Similarly, these diverse, astonishingly rich and colourful cultural currents create a harmonious hymn known as India, even as they retain their unique individual identity.
This series of Incredible India presents 10 books on different cultural aspects of the country, written by well-known experts on the subject. This book by Jaya Jaitly, who is well known for her commitment to crafts and artisans, has focused on India's bounties of Nature and the way it has stimulated creativity of the people who live in the midst of it. To hundreds and thousands of Indian artisans fusion of utility and aesthetics comes naturally. Since the author has worked so closely with craftspersons all over India for decades, she gives a graphic picture of their skill combined with their daily life struggle and natural beauty of their surrounding.
Siddhartha Das has spent nearly 10 years intermittently living and working with craftspersons in Indian villages. His photographs speak for his sense of aesthetics and sensitivity towards the crafts and artisans.
The people of India inhabit a terrain that ranges from dusty plains to snow-capped mountains, river deltas, deserts, semi-tropical forests and coastal tracts interspersed by innumerable varieties of flora and fauna, changing from region to region. Mix with this the cultural streams that poured into India from all corners of the world leaving behind relics of historical events spanning millennia, you have a resource that is not only a cornucopia of skills, colours, motifs, textures, knowledge and wisdom that are far beyond articulation but are simply there to be witnessed in every flick of the wrist or the snap of the fingers. Craftsmanship in India comes naturally to hundreds of thousands of its unlettered people, who weave myths, legends and simple daily experiences into different forms of creativity that can change shape from day to day, yet remain for centuries to enrich their lives.
Long before one can remember, far beyond the reach of memory, Nature linked the farmer, the hunter, the householder, and the artisan in a bond of true interdependence. In India, as in other agriculture or forest- based society, Nature's resources provide an almost never-ending supply of materials on which the artisan depends for his existence. To use it, respect it and honour it is intrinsically linked to the daily processes of life, be they temporal or spiritual.
Communities living in or at the fringes of rich, silent forests commune with Nature and honour it as Mother Goddess. The abundant bamboo that grows in many parts of India, particularly in the north-eastern states, provides the resources for communities to use its stem, its roots and shoots for building their homes, making their kitchen utensils and putting into their cooking pots. The desert brings with it camel skin, sand, sparkling mica and an urge to use brilliant colours. By mighty rivers or small streams, near stone quarries or even where urban habitations have brought products created by a technologically developing world, people have instinctively learned to draw upon their environment to create artefacts for their daily needs.
A rural woman spends her day, beginning early in the morning, tending to animals, sweeping her immediate habitat, lighting the fire, making the morning meal, caring for her children and the rest of the family, fetching water, collecting firewood - hardly ever finding a moment to rest. Yet in the few snatched moments of leisure, she will work on some local grass to weave a basket, fashion an ornamental broom or create a mat for friends and family to sit on. Nature lends itself to her creativity, allowing her need to create beauty around her even in the most mundane of objects and within a harsh and sometimes dreary existence. It often seems as if the very simplicity of rural lives and the easy access to Nature's materials allows them to carryon traditions merely as a pastime with little knowledge of their possible aesthetic or economic value in the outside world.
The use of Nature's resources to make utility items of daily use, taking care not to destroy or pollute them, has been an integral part of the Indian psyche. When the natural forces of life represented by the elements of fire, water, air, the earth and the mind are a part of a spiritual understanding of what sustains life, it is but obvious that a practical understanding combined with the myths and legends contribute to this gentle use and respect for Nature as a manifestation of the Supreme Being who guides the destiny of the universe and all its beings.
In Ladakh, local legends ward people off from cutting the boughs of trees or spoiling the water in a running stream by telling them that spirits and gods dwell in them. In a high-altitude desert where water is scarce and trees grow only where humans have established settlements and planted them, it seems the simplest way to preserve the environment. Water is carefully drawn out of a stream with buckets, and only twigs and branches that have naturally fallen on the ground are collected for firewood. Wild grasses, growing at the edge of River Indus, are collected to weave baskets to be carried on their backs by women who transport vegetables to the marketplace. When the basket becomes old and worn out, it does not pollute the environment if tossed away by the riverside.
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