Travel Yarns

Experiences, Cultures, Traditions, Reminiscences from the East and the West

Craft shops

Sustaining a legacy of crafts by artisans – Crafts Council of India (Kamala)

One of the popular known artisan made handicraft shop is the Crafts Council of India, also known as the Kamala. They have a broad range of simple yet elegant, classy yet contemporary, rustic yet charming clothes, décor, jewelry, handmade wooden toys, paintings, carved wooden boxes and many more. “Kamala”, as they are popularly called, throw open a window of opportunities for Indian artisans who have mastered the legacy of handmade products.

In Jan 2017, the Crafts Council of India opened their third shop of ‘Kamala’ in Chennai after the success of Kamala outlets at Delhi and Kolkata. I went during their opening week and was impressed by the variety of arts and crafts products displayed on the shelves. The salesperson told me that every week, new products come in for sale. An array of rare handmade and ethnic home decor, tableware, clothing, toys and other many more striking products were at display.

As I talked to a salesperson and asked her about the Kamala shop and the sourcing of crafts, I got to know a story not normally known to consumers. She said:

“We contact the village artisans, provide the requirements of the artwork and ask them to do the work. Then we sell the crafts from them, so all the benefits and money goes back to the artisan to develop their living”.

“Many people still do not appreciate the craftsmanship, they do not know the hard work, they think it is expensive and do not want to buy. But we think it is important for them to be aware of the work of the artisans, the goal of helping them to succeed and make their livelihood. It is not an easy task to specify the requirements, ask them to do paintings on so many different objects we use for everyday use and still bring out a elegant piece of handcrafted product. There are trials and successes and failures as well, but we try to bring out the best from the artisans”.

Clearly, Crafts Council of India is one of the non-profit organizations that help these village artisans and crafts to flourish by resurfacing the legacy crafts, enhancing the skill of the artisans, via skill based workshops so that they can improvise each time.

The saleswoman took me on a tour around the craft shop talking about the different art forms and craftsmanship. What I have attempted below is an attempt to bring out the varied forms of craft from different parts of India, available at the Kamala outlet.

Odisha Applique and Bihar Papier Mache: The labyrinthine designs talk about a story of a craft lovingly made by the artisans.

A large Odisha applique hanging display was the center piece catching the attention at the entryway, followed by handcrafted and painted papier mache animals in the racks. More papier mache platters from Bihar showed off stately from the lower part of the shelves. These platters were handpainted with intricate Madhubani geometric motifs, bringing out their rustic appeal. The platters are first sanded and then painted. No other material is used.

Andhra Pradhesh Kalamkari: (‘Kalam’ means Pen and ‘Kari’ means craftsmanship), woven together to weave magic

Inspired I moved on to view the several other array of displays and found the famous Kalamkari work depicted on cute boxes. The salesperson showed me how the boxes were made of leather and the designs on the top which were handpainted with Kalamkari work to enhance their charm. These could be used as multi-purpose knick-knack boxes, jewelry boxes or table organizers etc.

Handwoven fabrics are something that I love to see and buy and my next catch was the neat cushions hand embroidered and hand painted. I smiled as I thought of multiple cushions that would fit my living space and I could not but resist picking a few for myself.

Barmer, Rajasthan Cutworks: Shades of green with Rajasthan cutwork, delicately handcrafted

Flowing cutwork runners from Barmer, Rajasthan were sprucely displayed on bamboo stands. Cutwork is traditionally done by women and has reverse applique in which a cloth lining is applied to a second cloth at the bottom. The upper part has tiny incisions where the cloth is folded very fine and stitched down, depicting the pattern in the bottom cloth. I held the clothing and could feel the texture and the softness of the cloth.

West Bengal, Kolkata Pat Paintings: Cloth based scroll paintings, narrating a story

Moving ahead, I saw the Kalighat Pat or cloth-based scroll paintings, with a blend of tradition and modernity from West Bengal. These are drawn by both Muslim and Hindu communities and depicts Patachitras with storytelling themes. These paintings often talk about tales from the Hindu mythology and are artistically exhibited as a visual aid to tell the story. The rural artisans often used to travel across villages, depict the stories on Pat (long scrolls of paper) and sing songs narrating the stories.  The Kalighat painters are practicing this art since ages and are noted by their bold outlines and broad modelling, enhancing their distinctiveness. Some modern painters however have adapted to use lesser colors and pastel colors to create an effect of serenity.

Madhya Pradesh Gond Tribe Paintings: Rooted in culture for their rituals, festivals, songs and dances

WOW! The famous Gond paintings famous of Madhya Pradesh. These mystical paintings are rich in detail, color and employ modern means to evoke the pre-modern psyche. They also bear a remarkable similarity with aboriginal art from Australia as they both use dots to create the painting. The painted Gond paintings relate a story drawn from flowers, birds, animals, life etc. The inner and outer lines are the lifeline for these Gond paintings. The other unique aspect is the use of vivid colors in these paintings which are usually naturally derived like charcoal, plant colors, leaf colors, red soil etc.

Indian Sarees: Gorgeous, intricate, vibrant – weaved delicately, defined through traditions and culture

And now, it is the turn of our very own Sarees – the traditional attire for Indian women. I saw several different kinds and varieties from all over India displayed. It was a motely of silk, cotton, jute, materials decorated with Indian artforms like Kalamkari, Madhubani, Kantha, Kutchi work etc. The stones, beads, embroidery are all hand woven made by women and other self-help groups across India.

Other crafts:

I could go on and on about the different forms of craft I saw in the outlet, but really the thing that motivated me to visit Kamala was the purpose – a purpose of providing economic sustenance and livelihood to artisans and the overall goal of ensuring that the legacy of these crafts is sustained for a long time.

For Crafts Council of India, the main hardwork and toil is from the exclusively designed products, where the Crafts Council team have direct and deep conversations with artisans from remote villages, specify the requirements, get the products done and market them. I enjoyed the visit to Kamala and would love to go again and again for my home décor needs and for gifting.

If you visit Chennai, make sure you visit the Crafts Council of India. Spend time there to ask about a craft and you will get to listen to a fascinating story about its formation, it’s makers, its materials and much else. If not anything, the beautiful arts and crafts on display and the stories behind it are enough to leave you craving for more!

Let’s buy and gift handmade products! Let’s support the artisans!

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