Young World

With a stitch like satin

Reviving a lost art: Beautiful and skillful embroidery on your handkerchief.

Reviving a lost art: Beautiful and skillful embroidery on your handkerchief.  

Originating in the princely state of the Himachal, the Chamba Rumaal is an intricate and delicate piece of folk art that was once the preserve of royalty.

In the old days when there were no distractions like television, the mobile phone and other gizmos, women and men enjoyed working at craft or using the needle to create pieces of beauty. But they soon got lost in the warp of time, and some organisations worked to revive lost art.

The Chamba Rumaal is one of those crafts. It originated in the then princely hill states of Chamba, Kangra, Basohli which are now part of Himachal Pradesh. Whenever royalty or rulers encouraged craft, it flourished and when they stopped, the craft died out.

Rumaal means handkerchief, and it probably got its name because the embroidery was done in a square format. The motifs were inspired by Mughal miniatures of the 18th and 19th centuries. They look like paintings translated into embroidery. Another great source of inspiration were the paintings on the walls of the Rang Mahal in Chamba.

Needle and thread

Most of these paintings were done on the walls of the residences of the ladies of the court. Each painting was lined with a floral border. The Chamba rumals were mainly embroidered by royal women who had artistic skills. The embroidery of these Rumaals is based on religious themes with Hindu deities, floral motifs, birds and animals. Many of them have Krishna themes. The embroidery was done with silk thread using satin stitch in bright colours especially if the theme was folk art, on hand spun fabric like mulmul. It is possible that trained miniature painting artists drew the outlines with charcoal and guided the women on the colour schemes. The rumaals were used to cover offerings made to Gods, and during marriage festivities to cover presents gifted between the bride’s family and the groom’s. Some of the rumaals had the game of dice embroidered on it.

An NGO, Delhi Crafts Council, revived this dying art, and had reproductions made. Though embroidery is hardly done these days, you too should sit down with the needle and thread and embroider small items like a handkerchief or a cover, because what each of you work on will be a unique expression of art.

On display

The oldest dated rumaal belongs to the 16th century and is said to be embroidered by Bebe Nanki, Guru Nanak’s sister. You can still see it in the Sikh Shrine in Hoshiarpur district in Punjab and the one done on the theme of the Kurushektra battle is now displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 11:15:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/chamba-rumaal-folk-art/article6661557.ece

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