On a revival mode

IN A NEW AVATAR (from left) Manju, Masto Devi, Tulsi Devi, Parikshit Sharma  

Once upon a time during weddings in the foothills of Himalayas, rumals were gifted with great pride by families of brides to grooms as a token of goodwill. These were not standard handkerchiefsbut those painstakingly created with affection and artistic proficiency by the bride herself. This long cherished traditional practice in Chamba town of Himachal Pradesh was almost a ritual that was passionately followed in virtually every household. Gradually, Chamba Rumal developed into an embroidered handloom pieces patronised by the princely states.

What made Chamba Rumal unique is that it is an exquisite embroidered work, which can be seen exactly the same from the reverse side. Double satin stitch technique known as Do Rukha ensures exact duplication of the image on the reverse of the cloth. Now this dying art is being given a new lease of life by Delhi Crafts Council. An ongoing exhibition organised by the Council at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre highlights its efforts in reviving the Chambal Rumal. It was Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya who first identified Chamba Rumal as an important part of our heritage.

The six-day exhibition showcases a melange of painting and embroidery on rumals that have been handcrafted by artisans who have done needle work on khadi and muslin.

Shedding light on this tradition, artist Parikshit Sharma, who excels in line drawing, says: “Earlier, when a bride from Chamba was engaged to a groom in Kangra region she would create a rumal which was gifted to the groom on the wedding day. The common themes revolved around Lord Krishna playing with gopis, mythological stories, migration of shepherd tribe and hunting scenes. Even now some families are continuing with this tradition.”

Pointing out that this exhibition is not an overnight development, Purnima Rai, former president of DCC, says: “Two decades back, we discovered that this craft was in a neglected state. Locals were working in synthetic thread to create stitches. Untwisted silk used in making these rumals was not available. There were few takers for the original. So our first challenge was to recreate rumals in their original form. That is when we showed artisans documentation of rumals preserved in Bhuri Singh Museum, National Museum, Delhi, Calico Museum, Ahmedabad, Victoria and Albert Museum, London. So we recreated them by guiding them on colours. Now, these women are working on original untwisted silk floss dyed in natural colours as shown in the exhibition.”

Chamba rumal

Chamba rumal  

Livelihood opportunities

Describing it as a revival project, Rai says: “After the abolition of princely states, nobody was placing orders. Rather than allowing rumals to be used only in wedding we have been working over the years to collect and frame them as pieces of art. It is part of our heritage and needs to be given a push. And this also helps us in providing livelihood opportunities to women.”

Masto Devi, working on rumal embroidery for 17 years, says: “In Chamba embroidery, we cover the entire surface of rumal with art work. Here we have used different elements like needle work has been done in varied forms. At some places, we have done double shading so as to create a multi layered work.”

Tulsi Devi, who has used unstitched silk floss dyed in natural colours on khadi, says: “In place of symmetrical formation seen in traditional rumals, three circles of dancers have been depicted. Outlines of figures have been superimposed and given impression of still shot. Single stitch outlines mark the form of figure.”

Young Manju, who has showcased a hunting expedition on rumal, says: “I have showcased the conflict between human beings and animals. This intricate work required needlework for four months as we have to make sure that work is similar on the reverse. Three-four colour schemes have been used.”

Giving a contemporary context to their work, Swati Kalsi, a designer from NIFT, who has worked with artisans in a few works, says: “Keeping the double satin stitch intact was our mandate. We created new textures and surfaces and brought in new motifs like aeroplane motifs.” One could even find a comment on contemporary politics with politicians hopping on a chess board!

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 3:44:29 PM |

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