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Updated: April 8, 2010 18:20 IST

The perfect square

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI
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The Council is ushering in innovation in the age-old craft of Chamba rumals
The Council is ushering in innovation in the age-old craft of Chamba rumals

Delhi Crafts Council continues to work towards the revival of Chamba rumals

Handkerchief is after all just a handkerchief, a utility item carried in our pockets largely for hygiene purposes. But that's for us, in this new world. Way back in the 18th and 19th Century, the same square was elevated to the level of an art piece. In the hills of Himachal Pradesh, the upper caste women, on these squares in fine handspun and hand woven unbleached muslin, embroidered stories of Krishna with the untwisted colour silk-floss.

The stitch technique used – do-rukha – ensured that the embroidered motifs were produced ditto on reverse side as well. Though, the craft was popular throughout the State, it was in Chamba due to long unhindered patronage of the Chamba rulers, it came to be known as Chamba Rumals. Legends, folks and myths painted in the Pahari miniatures formed the content of these ‘paintings in embroidery' which were used as covering platters, gifts for auspicious occasions and for offering to a deity.

The passage of time dealt a blow to the craft which languished until Delhi Crafts Council (DCC) came into the picture. A series of workshops, setting up of centre, training local women in the craft and exhibitions at regular intervals in different parts of the country formed part of its concerted efforts to revive the ancient craft. The ongoing exhibition ‘Raas' is a continuum of that exercise. “Fortunately, the skill remained. Only the affinity between the rumals and the paintings had got lost. The material and usage had got debased and it just became embroidery,” says Purnima Rai, General Secretary, DCC.

Colourful activity

In the project, steered by late Usha Bhagat, old rumals lying in the collection of various museums like Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba, Kolkata's Indian Museum, etc. were photographed and were recreated on fine unbleached khadi. Set inside the floral borders, colourful activity like the godhuli hour, Rukmini haran and Parijat haran is played out. The stylistically represented Krishna is immersed in raas leela with his gopis in one whereas in another a game of dice or hunting pans out before the viewer.

While in the olden times, skilled artists were called to make the drawings, here artist Parikshit Sharma draws the imagery before it is embroidered upon by the State awardee Masto Devi, Chimmbi Devi, Tulsi, Suman and others who work with the DCC's centre ‘Charu' in Chamba. Reinventing the ancient craft without compromising on its traditional flavours, figures prominently on the council's agenda. “We want to promote its uses so we have come out with these book covers or the ceremonial covers with Vishnupad or these framed rumals which can be hung on the walls but we would never do it on clothes because then it will become just embroidery. We have been successful in producing untwisted pure silk floss dyed in natural colours and now we are gradually moving on to new Pahari miniatures,” says Manjan Nirula, President, DCC. The council also plans to take the exhibition abroad to show how an art form which is in the museums is still alive and vibrant.

(The exhibition with live demonstrations by Masto Devi and her team are on till April 13 at main exhibition hall, IGNCA)

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