CCI’s golden jubilee celebration begins on April 3.

In the post-Independence renaissance and regeneration of Indian handicrafts, many personalities played significant roles. Among them stood out Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay, a visionary. She set up the Crafts Council of India in 1964, a voluntary, non-governmental, not-for-profit registered organisation to enhance, protect and nurture India’s heritage.

Today CCI is on the threshold of its golden jubilee, celebration beginning on April 3. The banyan tree called CCI is a family of 10 affiliated State councils and a larger one of hundreds of artisans spread across the country, whose lives it has touched and even transformed.

CCI extends this support in multi-pronged ways. Through workshops and seminars, upgradation of tools and technology, design and product development through the help of experts, marketing exercises such as sales, bazaars and sending artisans abroad for demos and sales. It also helps in research and documentation that preserves knowledge for posterity. Among its landmark documentation is the three-volume ‘Stone Craft of India.’

Awards for artisans

CCI recognises excellence through awards and scholarships for artisans. It’s ‘Educate to Sustain’ programme creates opportunities for craftsperson’s children through education, training and exposure. The Craft Economic and Impact Study (CEIS), which CCI has undertaken will provide government authorities with a reliable data base involving perhaps 200 million artisans.

“Yes”, says Vijaya Rajan, CCI Chairperson, who has grown with the organisation since its inception. “I've been through it all, the early years of operating from each other’s homes and even from our sick beds! Organising exhibitions and workshops, as president of CCI’s APR region, apart from seminars and other events with a bunch of dedicated volunteers. The bottom-line has been to provide sustainable livelihood to the artisans. CCI has always had a humane face, which has touched the artisan’s lives.”

One such life is that of Raja Shekharan, from a traditional Tamil sthapati family, who was chosen to be trained in the use of pneumatic tools at CCI’s Stone Tech programme in 2004. Because of his excellent sculpting skills at the workshop, he was chosen to undergo training at City and Guilds of London Arts School, where he won a competition to be part of the Windsor Castle restoration project. Today his half-lion half-elephant yaali grotesque adorns the corbels of St. Georges Chapel in Windsor Castle. Raja Shekharan’s studio in Bangalore now attracts British and Indian trainees.

Then there is Shilp Guru Guruppa Chetty, a Kalamkari artist and a lifelong friend of CCI. Guruppa’s knowledge on craft of Andhra has proved to be of immense value to CCI, which sponsored his attendance at WCC’s Vienna exhibition.

There are numerous other lives that CCI has impacted, the numerous craftspersons who attend it’s craft bazaars. These include anyone from master weavers such as Varanasi’s Munna Haji Noor Mohammad, Lucknow’s Shilp Guru and chikankari master Rehana, Dr. Ismail Khatri of Bhuj to kite makers and broom makers from U.P. But the biggest smiles come from the children of the Educate to Sustain Programme. They are weaver’s children from Veeravannalur: J. Venkatesh, Narayanan, Shanmughapriya, Subbalakshmi and Priyanka are happily learning languages, math, computer skills and art, while getting trained in the art of weaving at their homes.

CCI’s Golden Jubilee year celebration will begin with the presentation of the Kamala Awards to artisans and activists and a Retrospective Exhibition on April 3. They will continue through the year with special monthly craft-related events in Chennai. The programmes for the next three months will include a quilting exhibition along with the launch of a book on Indian quilts, a craft-related film festival and an Odisha Crafts Festival. The rest of the events, to continue till April 2015, will include exhibitions such as ‘The Future is Handmade,’ Packaging, North-Eastern Crafts Exhibition, Embroideries, Craft Bazaar and Natural Dye Bazaar.