India's Craft Tradition

India's Craft Tradition

Item Code: IDE690
Author: Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay
Publisher: Publications Division, Government of India
Language: English
Edition: 2000
ISBN: 8123007744
Pages: 68 (Color Illus: 6)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" X 5.4"
Weight 130 gm
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From the Jacket:

India has been a land of crafts and craftsmen. In this book an attempt has been made to trace the growth of master craftsmanship in our country in all its manifestations - metals, ivory carvings, potteries, mosaics, shawls, muslins, stones et al.

About the Author:

The author Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was a freedom fighter and a social worker. She set up Central Cottage Industries Emporium and headed a number of organizations including All India Handicrafts Board. Kamaladevi wrote a number of books.



This is not a book on Indian crafts or their origin and development. This is an attempt to seek the origin of master- craftsmanship', how this concept first came to be before it was built up into a way of life in India. True master- craftsmanship is not peculiar lo India. But normally it relates to a physical function, a manual performance. But nowhere were the people made aware that this spark of a dynamo was within us to be brought out and woven into our life through an elaborate mo ate as it were, as was done in this country. Visionaries from lime la time have tried to remind mankind not to lose this essence of life-what the Indians called rasa, and what in modern parlance is referred to as 'quality'. Morrison. Ruskin, Tolstoy, Emerson in the West, each in his own way, according to his own light. Hamada, lnagi, Tagore, Gandhiji in the Orient, pleaded for this element, the element of excellence in life. The very basic values that constitute this are different. They are not to be assessed by the cost of materials possessed, their weight or size, nor measured by the mere volume of knowledge acquired.

There is a different force at work where man is creating something beautiful for himself, for the household: purposeful, but non commercial. It is this that has impelled the tribals to gain mastery over their workmanship and produce superb things. The joy of creating with single-minded concentration and infinite patience to bring their effort to perfection, resulted in the wealth of beauty in their life.

This book is not meant to be a study and therefore avoids footnotes and authoritative quotations. The references to ancient texts are to show how this concept of quality was pursued over the centuries, relentlessly, to use a harsh term, and stressed as most crucial in shaping our life style.

Today when sensitive and thinking beings the world over are bemoaning the loss of this quality in life, hankering for it, when telling books are produced as illustrations in homely similies like fixing a motor cycle part or the social significance of using an old-fashioned lawn mower, one senses the realisation that great truths are only sustained through the fine quality in the little everyday things of life.

Handicrafts are valuable not. merely as a beautiful heritage, but because we need to live with them, touch them, feel them, use them, have intimate communion with them, so that our life is enriched by their grace.

India is old in experience, but young in modernity, mature yet naive. Though we have inherited incalculable treasures, material and intellectual, we remain incalculably poor. The progress we boast of seems at times non-descript when we take a hard look at ourselves. There is an inversion of values, rather superficial, when 'fie wander away from our roots. The high prestige placed on power has provoked imitation, which may be meritorious but uninspiring.

What we seek today is not a repetition of the old pattern, be it Indian or colonial. but a positive contribution to strengthening the quality of current life. The sterility of our higher education can be more impoverishing than the absence of elementary education amongst a people who still possess some of the deep oral culture. This makes ours a land of the cultivated illiterate and the uncultivated educated.


India Has Been known as a land of Crafts and Craftsmen. An ancient chronicler of centuries gone by writes: 'One finds long established industries of the Indian peninsula asserting their excellence in a manner at once characteristic and extraordinary. The same skill is seen in metals, in ivory carving, pottery, mosaics, shawls, muslins. carpets, an excellence attained by these ingenious communities ages and ages ago, and still practising them.' Traditional Craftsmanship in our country has meant far more than skill with materials, more than manual dexterity in manipulating tools. It has meant a total operation involving tile emotions, mind, body and the vibrant rhythm that such a co-ordination generates.

The question posed is: How came this concept of 'master craftsmanship'-mastery in the creation of crafts. What are quality and excellence, the indispensible attributes of 'master-craftsmanship'.

Craftsmanship has always been a basic activity in human society. in fact it is considered more cohesive and permeating in human relationships than even language, for it can penetrate the normal barriers to communication. Particularly has this been true of the older societies such as those in Asia, South and Central America, Africa where certain aspects of the ancient handed down cultures still continue to produce powerful impressions that are almost ageless.

The growth of crafts in society was the sign of the cultivation of sensitivity and the stirring and mellowing of humanism. It stood for man's endeavour to bring elegance and grace into an otherwise harsh and drab human existence. In fact, man's elevation from the gross animal existence is marked by his yearning for something beyond the satisfaction of mere creature comforts and needs, which found natural expression in crafts.

The most primitive people began to ornament their articles of everyday use, later weapons, then their garments and their own person and surroundings. The rough and severe walls of their huts became canvasses on which blossomed pictures. A death-dealing but very strategic item like the bow and arrow became embellished with decorations, water pots took pleasing shapes and alluring designs were invented for mundane kitchen pans, coverings and trappings for animals, ornamentation of even ordinary carts.

Here we see the transformation of the mere functional into works of aesthetic value, the common becoming the cherished, the joy giving. Utility is the necessary part in the completeness of life. Through aesthetics in utility, beauty is brought into our intimate life.

India has over the ages built up a complex philosophy to define and interpret these concepts. Yet if one probes back into the remotest caverns of time, these attributes seem to have taken shape even as man has grown from the earliest times. Obviously craftsmanship emerged and unfolded itself in the peace and refulgence of the countryside where the community living in close intimacy with nature, with its many splendoured mien and in tune with its changing rhythms of the day, of the night, the varying seasons and the life-cycles, evolved a culture of its own in harmony with the environment. The seasonal observances through festivals were a sign of their awareness of the wonder of nature's transformation and to transcend the petty routines of everyday life. Its social content was a fabric woven out of the million tinted strands of local romances and heroic tales, from the core and substance of their everyday life mingled with vibrant memories transformed into myths and fables, songs and verses, and not the least out of nature's own rich storehouse.

Each community lived an integrated pattern of life that responded to the joys and burdens of life, taking them in its flow. There was a natural acceptance of the human cycle like embracing the air and the sunlight, with no resort to escapism. Craftsmanship was thus conceived and nurtured in an embryo of fullness generated by an unhurried rhythm of life. Such products naturally had vitality and character for they were the direct expression of man's creativity, but with a purposeful emphasis on the functional, endowing it with beauty. Craftsmanship was therefore an indigenous creation of the ordinary people to meet their direct human needs. An illustration cited is that satisfaction in eating calls as much for the right kind of spoon as the food to be consumed. This genesis accepted man's intimate kinship with and understanding of the human urges that create the needs. It also proved an intuitive sense of going with, rather than against, the grain of daily existence. Craftsmanship became an activity that involved the entire person, closely relating the mind and the material to a certain function for a specific purpose. There was no professional caste or class of craftsmen or women. Each was a maker and creator.

It is obvious that man developed a sense of aesthetics from the pleasure he derived from a job well done. He must have imbibed a a deep sense of fulfilment when he looked on his handiwork. He satisfied, unconsciously may be, but with the right instinct, all the conditions demanded later through learned treatises of what constituted master-craftsmanship. This was not determined merely by the outer appearance of an object. It had to be a human activity that fulfilled a definite function, had a place in a social pattern, for man is a part of a social milieu. Therefore, the tangible forms he shaped were meaningful and led to the maker transcending himself and getting transformed into an artist, that is, a creator. This accounts for the superb handiwork of the tribals, the result of an unobscured imagination, extreme concern for details, sincere devotion to objectives, all of which generates powerful inspiration and endows the object with quality. But this was not the offspring of a philosophy not lessons learnt from learned treatises, guide books or texts.

Here one needs to define quality in this context, for it would go beyond the normal dictionary meaning.

One gazes with wonder on the objects the tribals turn out. The textile designs range from the most delicate and suggestive to the most elaborate manifestation of complex techniques. The basketry is most exquisite, with incredibly refined weave and in a wealth of beautiful shapes and designs. The wood carvings are startlingly alive.



Chapter I Introduction 1
Chapter II Crafts Galore 21
Chapter III Art in India 66


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