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Chamba rumaal; the threaded narratives from Himachal Pradesh !



The expression of feelings through art is a common human trait across civilizations. It is also a complex mixture of social, cultural, aesthetic, psychological, and political spirit of the time and place. The art of adornment is associated with human beings since prehistoric times. With evolution, expression through art became inherent character of various cultures. 

Primitive humankind improvised the stitches used to join animal skins together and started using them also as decoration. And thus began a journey of the art of embroidery. Clothing has been used as a statement for cultural, social, and aesthetic standing. And the art of embroidery has been an intrinsic part of it across cultures. 

In India, each state enjoys the pride of having a rich heritage of unique textile styles, weaves, and embroidery. This article intends to discuss the art form of tradition of pictorial embroidery, known as "Chamba rumaal". 


Origin of Chamba rumaal 

This craft originated,  got refined, and thrived in the erstwhile state of Chamba in the 17 – 18 century AD, around the time when the art of Pahari paintings was at its peak. The image of miniature paintings was transformed into embroidery by women artisans and with time, it became a celebrated craft tradition of Chamba.

"Rumaal" is a Persian word for the handkerchief. And as the name suggests, this visual art refers to embroidering on handkerchiefs; quintessential to the region of undivided Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and some parts of Kashmir. Unfortunately, now this art form is practiced mostly in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh. 

Acclaimed for the fine, double-sided embroidery, the Chamba rumaal is used in multiple conventional ways. These traditional rumaals are made in various shapes and sizes to serve different purposes. A kerchief for men and women, covers for books, for musical instruments, fruit baskets, or gift platters to wallhangings, these rumaals were part of daily life by common people as well the aristocracy.  

The craft of Chamba rumaal is a collaboration between two art forms; the Pahari painting and the fine art of embroidery. In one art form, the painter uses a brush and in another, it is replaced by a needle. In a Chamba rumaal, handmade paper is substituted by fabric and colorful threads replace the beautiful pigments of a Pahari painting. Traditionally, the drawings of the Chamba rumaals were never traced. They were done in freehand style without breaking a line by the skillful hands of the Pahari Painters. Painters invariably guided the embroidery artisans on palettes of silk threads.


History of Chamba rumaal  

The fabric used for the embroidery was handwoven and handspun unbleached muslin, khaddar, or silk. This handicraft thrived due to it being a pivotal part of social customs. The Chamba rumaal was one of the "must-have" items in the dowry. No wedding ceremony would be complete without the gift of finely embroidered Chamba rumaal from the bride's side to the groom and his family. The bride was considered exceptionally meritorious if she had mastered the art of Chamba rumaal embroidery! People loved to flaunt the Chamba rumaals in some form or fashion during social/religious festivities. Usually, the elite class preferred the intricate designs and work on exquisite silk fabric and collected them for aesthetic purposes.

How the Chamba rumaal is made

Creating a Chamba rumaal involves painstaking handwork. This art form demands precision in the skill of double-sided darning (satin stitch carried forward and backward alternately), and satin stitches embroidery on a varied range of delicate cotton fabrics with natural dyed untwisted silk yarns. The primary art, characterized by intricate lines, is traditionally drawn by miniature art experts based on traditional themes. Once the drawing part is over, the embroidery work is usually carried out by accomplished women artisans. The inherent character of the Chamba rumaal embroidery is that both sides of the cloth are stitched simultaneously to fill up space making the design on both sides look uniform, impactful, and identical in content. That is why the technique is known as "do-rukha" (two-faced). The finish of the embroidery is so fine that it is impossible to spot the knots. The rumaal can be viewed from both sides and it looks almost identical.   

In olden times, Pahari painters drew the outlines of the basic picture with a fine brush or charcoal. Sometimes, the embroidery artisans preferred to draw the patterns, figures, and designs themselves. This practice resulted in two uniquely different styles and aesthetics of Chamba rumaal. One elegant and refined in draughtsmanship, and another one, raw, and audacious in treatment.

Colors and motifs of the Chamba rumaal  

Purple, red,  pink, orange, lemon and deep yellow, dark green, parrot green, ultramarine, and Prussian blue, black, and white were the preferred colors. Silver wire known as badla is also noticed on the old Chamba rumaals. Traditionally, the motifs on the Chamba rumaal have been drawn from indigenous tales; the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Bhagwat Puranas, Nature, and the local life of a community the artisans belonged to. The figures of Krishna along with his Gopis was a common theme. 

Current status of Chamba rumaal 

The art form of Chamba rumaal was practiced till about a hundred years back. With the decline in the patronage from the royal and noble class of the society, the art form slowly became extinct. There are very few artisans left who practice this art form today and despite their measures to revive this embroidery tradition, it is difficult to continue without eager buyers. The only consolation is, after being awarded the Geographical Indication (GI) in 2007, there is a surge in interest from some government bodies and NGOs in its revival. Let's just pray the Chamba rumaal can adapt to contemporary times, receives the much-needed boost, and retain its erstwhile grandeur. 

***All the pictures shared here are taken from Google. 

Cheriyal scroll paintings, a visual memoir of folk art from Telangana



The traditional Cheriayl mask characters, part of a story 
Cheriyal; an artform of painting scrolls for storytelling:

The Indian folk arts are a fascinating blend of excellence in artistry, skills, crafts, cultural and social traditions, and history. They have played a pivotal role in Indian artistic tradition and have been an inherent part of Indian social and cultural life for centuries.


One of the folk art forms of India famous world over is the scroll paintings. Many states in India have traditions of scroll paintings. In earlier times when there were no mediums for communication and entertainment like phone, television, or internet, the scroll paintings served as perfect means for communication, education, and entertainment. Phad scroll paintings from Rajasthan, Pattachitra from Orissa and West Bengal, Jadupatua scroll paintings from Jharkhand, Bihar, and Thangka scroll paintings from Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Ladakh, and Arunachal Pradesh are a few examples of this art form and are a brilliant amalgamation of tradition, culture, and social, religious, and professional ideologies of a given place.  

The Cheriyal scroll paintings from Telangana have a unique character that makes them stand out from other traditional scroll paintings. These scrolls are community-based paintings that depict stories in context with caste professions, rooted in the local heroic legends of particular communities.

Each community would have its band of storytellers/bards. Depending on the profession of the community, the bards would be given titles. For example, Gauda Shettys are the bards for the Gaud community, Chakalipattamvarus are the bards for Chakali or washermen community, Padmasalis are the bards for the weaver community, and so on. 

The artists of Cheriyal scroll paintings painted different stories for different communities. And the wandering minstrels/bards would pick up the scrolls relevant to the community they represented. For example, a bard from the weaver community would invariably take a scroll painting narrating tales from Bhakt Markandeya Purana, as Rishi Markandeya was known to be a seer who wove clothes for Gods. A bard from the fisherman community would pick up scrolls depicting tales from the Mahabharata as the writer of the epic, Maharshi Ved Vyasa was born into a fisherman's family. 




A young artist of traditional Cheriyal scroll painting at an exhibition   
 History of Cheriyal scroll paintings  


For centuries, the bright colors of the Cheriyal scroll paintings have brought folk tales and religious texts to life for the people of Telangana. Cheriyal, the village about a hundred kilometers from Hyderabad was a melting pot of many traditional art forms that were culturally and socially significant and provided employment to the artisans in and around the village. 


The earliest known Cheriyal painting scroll is said to be from 1625 when the Qutub Shahis of Golconda ruled the region of Telangana. The earlier version of this art form was known as Nakshi paintings during that era since it involved precision with fine lines. And the artists were called "Nakshas". While the name of the art form "Nakshi" is derived from the caste of people engaged with it, the scroll paintings are now known as Cheriyal scroll paintings. Sadly, few artists from Cheriyal and those who moved to Hyderabad are the only people practicing this art form albeit, struggling to stay relevant. In 2007, the Cheriyal scroll paintings earned GI (Geographical Indication).




Traditional Cheriyal painting depicting the Dashawatara, from my personal art collection 


Traditionally, the bards/minstrels would travel from one village to another, performing; singing, and dancing to every scene depicted on the scroll pinned in the background. The tales depicted in the scroll paintings would typically be from the Ramayan, Mahabharata, Krishna Leela, and Indian mythology and tales of local legends from various communities to impart moral and social lessons.


The storytellers would carry the scroll paintings with them as they were essential visual aids to go with stories and ballads. A well-constructed scroll painting would last for at least a hundred years and thus would be passed down to the generation of bards/minstrels. Unfortunately, due to some customs observed by the bards, after a certain number of years of usage, the scroll paintings were immersed in holy rivers. And this resulted in the loss of many precious Cheriyal scroll paintings. The only heritage scroll paintings we still have are the ones patronized and collected by the affluent class for aesthetic value. 

The Cheriyal artists also make wooden masks and dolls for traditional stories like “The Katamaraju Katha", an epic Telugu ballad about a war between the chieftain and the king of Nellore which consists of fifty-three characters, all made in the form of human-size dolls which when assembled, narrates popular folklore. Each character also has a story of its own. The storytellers would use those dolls and masks for narrating the story or use them as puppets. 

The art of Cheriyal scroll paintings have remained the same by and large but the unavailability of raw material has pushed the use of technology in some aspects of the craft. 


Traditional Cheriyal masks 

How Cheriyal scroll paintings are made:  


Traditionally, the Cheriyal scroll paintings are made on khadi fabric that is glazed with tamarind seed paste, rice starch, chalk powder, and tree gum. The mix of these ingredients is boiled, filtered with a cotton cloth, and then applied to the khadi canvas. Once the canvas is dried, the priming process is repeated once. After that dries, it is ready for use and the painting process begins. Once the painting of the subject is complete, a border with motifs of leaves and flowers is added to the paintings. 

 

The scroll paintings are created on bright red backgrounds and invariably follow a color scheme of blue, green, yellow, black, and white. Originally, the colors used in Cheriyal scroll paintings were natural. Black was extracted from lamp soot, white was obtained from river shells or zinc oxide, red and yellow were extracted from stones called Ingligum, skin color from turmeric, and blues from Indigo, and yellow from pevadi stones. These days, the unavailability of natural colors in the region has compelled the artists to procure color powders in bulk from artists from other states. 

Attempt to stay relevant to modern times 

With the advent of mass communication, the demand for these traditional scrolls has waned with time. From a traditional scroll that was three feet high and about fifty feet long with fifty panels, the Cheriyal scroll paintings have reduced to a single panel, suitable for urban homes. The Cheriyal artists are trying to make utility items like key chains, pen holders, wall decor, and small artifacts thus promoting art in whatever form and fashion possible. 

Cheriyal scroll paintings, the carrier of a rich heritage of history and culture are on the verge of extinction. And if we don't support this art form, this artistic expression of a beautiful region will be forgotten forever! 


The toy story: fading art of Channapatna toys of Karnataka


Between the bustling cities of Bangalore and Mysore, in the Ramanagara district nestles a small town, "Gombegala Nagara" or "Gombegala Ooru" meaning; a land of toys. The name may not ring the bell for some, but most of us would have seen the colorful, handmade lacquer wooden toys; the reason for which the town derived its name and is famous for the world over. 



This charming little town of Channapatna is the birthplace of a more than 200-year-old tradition of the environment-friendly, precious craft of Channapatna toy making.   The beauty of Channapatna toys lies in being lightweight yet strong, their colors, simplicity of the form, smooth texture, curved contours, the inherent nature of "learn with fun" concepts, and exquisite craftsmanship. 






The moment one enters Gombegala town, one can't help noticing charming little toy-making units confined within homes. Channapatna toy-making craft has a rich history that goes back centuries. The most alluring part of this craft is that it is a small-scale industry that involves generations of knowledge, unique skill sets, and special techniques. The Channapatana toys have made a distinct mark in international markets and enjoy protection under Geographical Indication (GI). 

 




The process of making Channapatna toys: 


The Channapatna toy-making process is time and labor-intensive work. These days the toys are made with woods like sycamore, cedar, pine, teak, and rubber albeit, the soft ivory wood remains the preferred material for the toys. This handcrafted toy-making process is elaborate and takes months from start to finish. It involves seasoning (which usually takes two or three months), cutting, carving (on a lathe, buffed with sandpaper or cactus leaf to obtain a smooth finish), and applying lacquer/color. The artisans use vegetable dyes on the toys to ensure they are safe for use by the children. Artisans of both manual and mechanical units make non-toxic, non-chemical environment-friendly colors.







The artisans and entrepreneurs associated with the Channapatna toys craft feel the need for the town to be recognized for its woodcraft and not just wooden toys. According to them, the history of Channapatna dates back to time immemorial! Channapatna was known for a range of wooden artifacts. Things for everyday use enjoyed a place of pride among the elite class. The wooden walking sticks with elegant handles and the umbrellas with curved handles were considered a symbol of prestige and royalty. 








For the last few years, the Channapatna toy-making industry has suffered heavily. With the advent of technology and markets, flooding with cheap, machine-made Chinese toy options, demand for this craft went on a steady decline, affecting the artisans depending solely on this craft. There were about 20,000 artisans involved with this craft two decades back. But with the slump in demand, most artisans left the industry and took up other employment options for survival. 



Another crucial aspect affecting this industry is better employment options in the nearby cities. Being situated near two major cities of the state, artisans easily find better opportunities with better earnings. They are unwilling to take any chances by sticking to the craft that can’t guarantee their safe future. Hence the young generation of craftsmen families loathes entering this industry owing to its dwindling fate. 

  

While a few enterprising entrepreneur-manufacturers are working towards withstanding competition and reviving the export market, banking on superior quality, safe construction, and material, there is a need for greater support from the state and central government. The craftsmen are also trying to adapt to the market trends by making artifacts and jewelry catering to contemporary demands. 


Many traditional crafts have suffered due to a lack of support and viability. If we don't understand the value of this beautiful craft and encourage it, there is a danger of the art form becoming extinct like so many others that we have already lost. 

 

*The photographs in the article are taken from Google and not mine. 

 

 


Good bye 2020 ! Thanks for the lessons !!


Image from Google 


For the last two weeks, my WhatsApp messages are buzzing with holiday pictures from friends. Facebook/Instagram are no different stories. It feels great to see those pictures indicating some semblance of "normalcy" return to life! However, I can't help thinking about the time when we finally get rid of sanitizers, masks, protocols of maintaining social distance and be able to venture out without an iota of worry or care and meet our family and loved ones.


2020 has been a complete blur! And now that it is about to end, its scars are going to be etched in our minds forever. The year has been a painfully challenging time for most of us. A year ago, the world was all set to celebrate the new year with dreams and hopes in heart and a joyous spirit!


Alas, the new year started with the news of Sars Covid-19, and it rapidly spread globally. The world has spent an entire year fighting Covid and still continues to. A tiny virus wrought disruption in our lives and how! Before one could comprehend the seriousness of the situation, there came rigorous lockdown wreaking havoc for the economy. How can one forget the inhuman crisis and exodus of migrant workers? While we still continue our crusade against the pandemic, the count of deaths caused so far has reached lakhs. Yes, this has been a painful reality to comprehend and live with. 2020 made us go through one challenge after another. From Nature's fury - the thunderstorms, floods, wildfires, locust swarms, volcanic eruptions, or political unrest, the year felt like a series of horrors! No wonder Time magazine calls the year "The worst year ever."

As we slowly limp back to the "unlocked" world with the gut-wrenching stories of the loss of loved ones deeply buried in our hearts, the world appears to be still bleeding with the disruption. There is clearly a monumental shift from the world we have known so far. As the new "normal" of work, business, travel, and life, in general, unfolds each day, the economy is slowly limping back too. There is a constant struggle in coming to terms with our new reality; the need to learn to live with the virus till the vaccine is finally accessible to one and all.


Yes, we are learning to adapt to this paradigm-bending new world, still trying to heal ourselves. And while we are learning to move on, let's not forget some important lessons this pandemic taught us: 


This year has given us a rare opportunity to pause and reflect on who we are and where we are headed as a human race. 


Our outlook towards life has changed; in the way we perceive, act, and respond. We may not realize it, but we are witnessing a turning point that has altered our lives forever.

 

The countless stories of the unsung heroes who went above and beyond the call of duty and served have been truly inspiring!


The pandemic made us test our resilience, patience, and strength. It is fascinating to observe human beings adapt to life-threatening situations and find coping mechanisms. Social media has indeed served as a boon helping people connect at different levels. 


The year has highlighted the transient nature of life and compelled us to realign our life in general. 

The most important lesson for the world this pandemic has imparted is the importance of human connection.

 

2020 has also revealed a lot about me. The work-life balance has not been easy to maintain without domestic help. It tested my strength and pushed me to achieve things that I never knew were possible. It has been a blessing spending time with my family. 2020 made me grateful for all the blessings that are usually taken for granted. The year made me realize what a privilege being alive is! 


As the world gets busy with welcoming the year 2021, let's not forget the pandemic is not going to disappear at the stroke of 12 on new year's eve. We still have a long way to go before the pandemic is finally over. All we need to do to emerge safe and alive from this calamity is to pause and ask ourselves what were we chasing all this while and was it worth all the pain? 


Before I close this last article for the year 2020, here is wishing all the readers of this blog a happy, healthy, meaningful, prosperous, and peaceful year 2021! Stay healthy, stay safe. 



Stepping into the "new normal" !



The lockdown has finally lifted. Life is slowly getting out of oblivion after almost three long months since the COVID outbreak. The initial panic has subdued, and a sense of surrender and acceptance has set in. The new "normal" of work, business, travel, and life, in general, is being written each day while the economy is slowly limping back.

Our struggle for these past few months to emerge strong has taken its toll. While we make efforts to cope with the new normal, thinking about the basic survival going forward in this changing world that looks completely different in a matter of just a few months! 

Amidst these extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, we all have changed in our outlook towards life; in the way we perceive, act, and respond. We may not realize it, but we are witnessing an epoch-making moment; a history in making, a turning point that has altered our lives forever!

Who would have thought that simple, routine tasks like venturing out to buy essentials would feel nothing less than an adventure! With the masks and gloves on, fingers crossed, and our hearts filled with trepidation, this is how we would go out henceforth in this "new" world. 

One feels a bit of anxiety about maintaining a safe distance during interactions. A sense of unease is evident in the eyes of people as there is an awkwardness about not being able to extend simple courtesies like shaking hands and hugging. The pandemic has pushed these very basic human gestures into a "danger" zone, and we have no option but to adapt and change the way we interact and socialize.

The normalcy of the past is quickly fading away. As the days blur into one another, laced with all-pervading anxiety, it gives a sense of living in a time warp. Having lost a sense of continuation of the time, we are losing track of the calendar. 

The streets have opened but are bereft of their soul. There are few people on the roads and the rhythm of life on the streets seems to have lost its balance.  That quintessential, fascinating hum and din, that constant clamour, the strong smells that assail all the senses, all these features that serve as the background and look like neverending scrolls of life have gone blank!  

While we struggle to come to terms with our new reality, there is a deep longing for our seemingly mundane, old routines and simple joys of life like;

taking a walk on the beach with bare feet, 

inhaling the smell of the ocean, 

visiting art galleries and museums and witness art that grows over you, 

moving about freely at the public places and smiling at complete strangers,

spontaneous conversations that forge new friendships,

take a stroll around the city for street photography,

long drives with family on the weekends,

travel to different places, 

visiting the spa, 

meeting friends for lunch and gossip,

a warm hug from a special someone on a date, 

lying on the grass, covered with fresh dew, just because

sitting on a park bench, exhausted, after a long walk and observe people passing by

being part of a crowd, 

going for a movie, play or cultural event,

words that warm your heart, 

lines from the books that stay with you,

music that keeps playing in your mind,  

making a list of "things to do' for the day and fussing over it...

Yes, what would one not give to resume all that we love doing,  just like the times before the COVID paralyzed our life? 

As we adapt to the "new normal" and heal ourselves from this experience, let's not forget that life is driving this monumental shift as a sign of something bigger, much significant for us to realize. We are given this rare opportunity to pause and reflect on who we are, where we are headed, and reconnect with our inner self and life and find our true purpose. 

  

Chamba rumaal; the threaded narratives from Himachal Pradesh !

The expression of feelings through art is a common human trait across civilizations. It is also a complex mixture of social, cultural, aesth...