Dastkari Haat is a treasure chest of exquisite handicrafts from across the country

There is no grumbling or sign of impatience at the caprice of the rain gods. Instead, there is infinite patience and dignity that comes of generations who fashion beauty under the most adverse circumstances.

“Yes, the rain did affect sales for sometime, but we just move on,” say the stall owners at the Dastkari Haat, the festival of crafts, textiles and arts, on at Kalakshetra up to December 13 (11 a.m. to 9 p.m.).

Akshara or “the word” is the special feature of this exhibition, with artefacts and textiles embellished with the script of various Indian languages. But, that is there is also much more at the festival presented by the Dastkari Haat Samiti and the Kalakshetra Foundation. A sample — as Prakash Joshi from Bhilwara unrolls his Phad painting, Rajasthan is unfurled in all its glory with the heroic exploits of her legendary royals captured in vibrant colour. Costing Rs.1.50 lakh, this scroll is a masterpiece. He has a vast range of painted scrolls priced from Rs. 300. The legend of Pabuji and Devnarayan painted on scrolls were used traditionally by the Phad narrator and singer, the Bhopa, to illustrate his story. “The Phad paintings today deal with contemporary subjects too,” says Prakash while artist Nand Kishore points to the black-and-white illustrations that would add a dramatic touch to any modern living room.

From Rajasthan too comes Dwarika Prasad Jangid, the kavad maker, who revisits with his wooden, painted shrines. The Patachitra of Bengal, the Madhubani of Bihar and paintings from Orissa contribute to the considerable variety of traditional art at the show.

As for textiles, the Ajrakh prints of Gujarat have captured the imagination of Chennai. National award-winner Abdulrazak Mohamed Khatri's nephew is proud he belongs to the ninth generation of Ajrakh printers of the village of Damadka, Kutch. “My grandfather Mohammed Siddique improved the range of our natural dyes.

Now we supply to Fab India as also outlets in Ahmedabad. Though we brought very few saris to Chennai, our running material is selling well,' he grins, cheerily scoring a point over the elements.

Silver, semi-precious stones, beads, terracotta, lac and thread make for a range of jewellery at the stalls. Rajkumar Malhotra from New Delhi has fashioned silver earrings, bracelets and pendants in a limited range using the Tamil script! And it has paid dividends. “I have customers placing orders for letters with which their name begins,” says Malhotra.

Among artefacts, Bidri ware from Karnataka introduces the eternal appeal of black and silver. Beautiful inlaid vases, hand mirrors and cute little boxes are among the finely-crafted Bidri ware of National award-winner S.R.A Quadri, who follows a family tradition. “Here people want to know the details of the work, but don't buy much,” he tells you without rancour.

Rajni Pillai of Kumbham, which specialises in black terracotta ware from Aruvacode, Kerala, is quite upbeat. “We have permanent clients for our microwave-safe pottery, and our traditional fish pots have repeat buyers. Our Akshara range has the Malayalam alphabet on serving bowls. And, especially popular are the terracotta figures fashioned by our artisan Lakshmi.”

A first-timer to the Chennai Haat is Artesania, a non-profit Trust from Ahmedabad, which makes bags of various shapes and colours as well as books and jewellery.

“We work with landless artisans,” says NIFT designer Carmina Fernandes. “We enable artisans access Government schemes, and help with design inputs, training and marketing. “We work in recycled fabrics,” adds her associate Daniella Ayesha.

Bags by Dastkar, Ranthambhore, with endearing looking tiger images also beg for attention as do the ones from Sandur, Karnataka.

Glass bottles with beautifully painted figures of gods, from Orissa by Apindra Swain and his brother, ranging from Rs. 550 to Rs 1,200 are a must buy, as also the colourful planters, trays and bowls made from grass in Badoi district, Uttar Pradesh, and the black Longpi pottery from Manipur.

Saris in a range of materials from many States, multi-coloured kurtis, kites and even printing blocks vie for attention.

“I love the Haat, it enables my child to get to know the culture and the range of crafts in our country,” says a young mother while her six-year-old is hard put to decide between the beautifully-painted, red terracotta piggy bank and the blue from Delhi-based Suman Sonthalia's stall.

As the dusk settles in and you wander around the more than 100 outlets drinking in the charm of one finely fashioned piece after another, you cannot help feeing strongly that craft festivals complete the December season in Chennai.

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