“We were living in acute poverty; there was no food at home. The situation impelled me to start working at an early age of 12. Food was more essential than education” says Jamdani craftsman Khokan Nandi from Burdwan, West Bengal. “We as a community of craftsmen weren’t doing any good in those times; there was absolutely no support from the government. But I was headstrong that I am going to earn my livelihood through this art and would help other artisans as well.” A journey induced by hunger today nurtures other young artisans. “Coming from a poor artisan family I could always empathize with the struggles of other craftsmen, my primary motivation was to be able to give work to other artists in my hometown. Gradually I expanded the work, produced new designs, created better combinations of colours. Eventually, there was some support from the government. I started attending exhibitions where I could connect with the consumers personally. I am still learning how my struggles can be the foundation stone of my success.”
Jamdani is one of the most exceptional hand-woven fabrics made of cotton; one can imagine the antiquity of the art through its earliest mention as an industry in Kautilya’s Arthashastra (3rd century BC). Jamdani weaving tradition is of Bengali origin and is considered one of the most time and labour intensive forms of hand loom weaving. The indigenous art which thrived under Mughal Emperors’ patronage saw a stark decline in the 19th-20th century with colonial ‘Deindustrialization’ policies. Kantha is another indigenous craft which is considered most creative of all the embroidery styles in India. Kantha was originated and evolved in the Bengal region; initially it evolved as more of a personal expression of creativity for the artists. Kantha, traditional embroidery often practiced with soft dhotis and saris by rural women. Today artists like Khokan Nandi are working with utmost earnestness to revive and preserve the traditional art.
Papier mache, a traditional decorative art of Kashmir has its roots in Persia. The word Papier Mache literally means ‘mashed or chewed paper’. The delicate articles are made up of paper pulp which is later painted with utmost finesse and ingenuity.“We’ve come down to the roads to exhibit our art in our country. There’s no two ways about the fact that our efforts are better recognized and rewarded by the outside world. It doesn’t only take hard work but a great deal of devotion to generate such art without any modern technology. I have thousands of designs stored in my mind just like a computer, I can create what I desire. But I hope people could better value the toil that goes in” says Mohd. Shafi Nagoo who is conferred National Award for his outstanding service in handicrafts. It was Zain-ul-Abidin, the eighth sultan of Kashmir who introduced the art in the region which evolved into a rich handicraft. Today talented Kashmiri artists like Shaafi turn basic utility articles into regal art pieces.
- Rachit Sharma