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Arts and Crafts in Himachal Pradesh

I am a lover of art. The ancient art inspires me the most, as it has come down to us after the hard work of centuries.

A scene of rural life of Himachal

A scene of rural life of Himachal

Arts and crafts of Himachal Pradesh

The folk arts are a symbol of civilization and its making.

They present the skill of the people to create beauty and excellence from the available materials and natural resources.

The exquisite, aesthetic and worth appreciating handicrafts that come out of this tiny hill state of India consist of carpets, leather works, shawls, metalware, woodwork, leather or plant fiber shoes, masks, bamboo works, paintings, sculpture and much more.

The art of wood carving and stone chiseling is considered to be the part and parcel of the rural folks of Himachal Pradesh.

They adorn the galleries and museums because of becoming obsolete now due to lack of marketing and royal or elite patronage.

The hilly architecture, art objects, floral and geometric designs of Kullu shawls, the woven leather shoes of Chamba together with hemp fiber shoes are typical of local origin, the style of which has been perfected over centuries.

it is the women who still take an active part in embroidery, pottery, weaving and making of hemp fiber shoes.

The men are perfect in chiseling, painting, metal-casting, carpenter work, carving etc.

Metalcraft, Jewelry and Musical Instruments

Ever since 600 AD, the crafted objects made from different metals. have always been a ritualistic need of the people of Himachal Pradesh.

The princely states and the courts of the local kings gave patronage to the craftsman who had mastered and specialized the art of metal-ware for religious, household and war purposes and hence the art flourished around the temples and palaces.

Iron and brass are still used for household utensils.

Other metal-wares include ritualistic vessels, idols, gold and silver jewelry, tools and equipment etc.

The towns famous for the metalcraft are Kinnaur, Chamba, Rohru, Jogindernagar, Kangra Bilaspur, Sarahan etc,

The antique and artistic metal statuettes or idols in the ancient temples of Himachal are one of the most significant and exquisite aspects of metal-craft. Such idols or statues of local gods and goddesses appear in metal plaques as symbols of concerned deities and are carried over from one place to another in a palanquin during religious festivities.

Repousse technique was made in use to create The temple doors of Brijeshwari Devi and Jawalamukhi temples of Kangra, the Bhimakali temple of Sarahan in Shimla, the Naina Devi temple in Bilaspur and the Chandika Devi temple of Kinnaur are made by the use of repousse or repoussage.

It is a design making technique in metalwork, where a malleable metal is ornamented or shaped by hammering from the reverse side.

A canopy made of gold at the Jwalamukhi temple is one of the examples of Himachal's metalwork which believed to have been gifted by Mughal emperor Akbar.

The metalwork of Kinnaur depicts a unique synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism.

For metal-craft designs in Kinnaur, the methods like solid casting, hollow casting, beating and raising processes are quite prevalent.

Dating back to the period of Bronze age the tradition of metal-ware casting in Chamba is an exquisite testament to its rich heritage.

The town іs аn important center fоr the making оf musical instruments, farm implements, weapons and other traditional handicrafts in the workshops of local artisans and blacksmiths.

The metal-ware are often used fоr iconography іn temples.

The items are typically made оf copper, brass, iron, etc.Especially for the decoration of the walls is done with large plaques in common reliefs.

The copper or brass is used to furnish the cupolas of the temples while the golden Kalasha оr the urn crowning the pinnacle of the temples are also produced.

The traditional instruments like kettle drum or nagara, the cymbals, bells, brass plates etc are made in Chamba Kinnaur, Mahasu and other parts of Himachal Pradesh.

Both the straight and the curved trumpets or ransinga are also produced.

Besides the traditional jewelry, the kitchenware are also made іn gold or silver.

The variety оf influences on jewelry of Chamba is due to its history of new immigration frоm Tibet and other parts оf the country.

Musical Instruments

Trumpet in local procession

Trumpet in local procession

Wood Craft

The woodcraft of Himachal especially of Kinnaur area, with its unique designs and the methods of production, has come to enjoy a place of pride in the folk-craft of India.

The people of the region still adhere to their traditions and lifestyles. This has provided an originality and uniqueness to the folk-craft.

Hence the craftsman of the region are the finest exponents of traditional woodcraft.

It is rather difficult to pinpoint the origin of these ancient crafts in Kinnaur, though it has been widely accepted that they have been in vogue for centuries.

It is said that the art form originated in Tibet.

The religious feelings took shape in the form of beautiful idols of local deities and hence the craft flourished in Kinnaur.

The craftsman of Kinnaur often uses a dragon motif, which is very popular.

The types of wood like that of walnut, pine, Cedrus deodar, wild black mulberry, chestnut, teak etc., play a significant role as a structural raw material because of their abundance in Himachal Pradesh.

The places like Kullu, Chamba, Kinnaur are famous for their woodcraft.

There is a tradition of constructing the villas and village houses in remote areas with carvings on doors, windows, balconies, ceilings and panels.

Wood carving and wood turning skills displayed on items like fruit bowls, mugs and statues are really impressive and aesthetic.

Wool Weaving

The sheep rearing and woolgathering are the part of the life of the people of Himachal due to extreme cold in winters.

There is a pit loom in almost every household because the wool is considered to be pure and is also used as a ritual cloth by the people.

The shawl is a well known woven object with its varieties ranging from fine pashmina to the coarse ones.

The woolen carpets and blankets are also vital in the local lifestyle.

The handmade and colorful shawls of Kinnaur and Kullu are famous for their striking and exquisite patterns.

The shawls, saris, and trousers in Kinnaur are woven in wool and typical dresses are made from it.

The Rampur shawls are known for their soft texture and close-knit patterns.

These shawls are very famous in the adjoining Tibet too.

The durability of Chamba shawls with chequered patterns and embroidered designs could be recognized at a single glance.

These woolen shawls іn traditional designаre are woven оn hand looms which typically have а bright border.

The shawls of pashmina made from fine wool are considered to be a prized and luxurious possession.

The yak wool is also used to male shawls and pullovers in Lahaul and Spiti.

These products are highly in demand in India and even in foreign countries.

The products of woven wool like carpets, mattress blankets known as dohru, blankets, woolen shoes, gloves, socks etc are made from the sheep wool.

The wool is then converted into yarn after being carded with hands or carding brushes or carding bows.

After furnishing the yarn on wheel called takli or charkha or spinning wheel.

Then the wrap is prepared on the peg wrap and thereafter the weaver weaves various patterns in different colors.

The Tibetan wool and colored woolen yarn are also used in various products.

The rulers of erstwhile Rampur state helped a great deal in the development of the local woolen and textile industry.

Chamba Rumal and the Chamba Chappal

Known for its natural beauty, Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh is a traditional home of attractive embroidery and footwear in different designs and styles.The centuries old designs of chappals or footwear and delicately embroidered rumal are the unique features of Chamba.

The handkerchiefs and the shawls аre made іn abundance on the traditionally hand-spun texture. They аre made in such а wаy that the both sides оf the cloth lооk identically embroidered.The tradition of making the footwear and handkerchief in Chamba is unique.

Embroidered Rumal or Handkerchief or the Headgear. Popularly called the Kasida work is especially done on Chamba rumal, and it is another specialty. It may conjure up a vision of a handkerchief, but to the discerning eye, it is a form of adornment. It is not used as a handkerchief in the ordinary sense of the word and is presented during the weddings.It forms an important part of the bride's trousseau. The men drape these over their shoulders, while the women use it as a flowing veil. It is a tradition in Chamba that the bride's trousseau is not complete without this rumal.

The men drape these over their shoulders, while the women use it as a flowing veil. It is a tradition in Chamba that the bride's trousseau is not complete without this rumal.

It is a fine article of decoration and is also used as a wall hanging, door screen, cushion cover and bed- spreads.

The unique thing about this rumal is the same embroidery on both sides. The background is always creamy or white in color. The embroidery skills are in vivid and striking contrasts, while the embroidery is carried out on plain cotton or silk fabrics.The whole work is carried out in running stitches with no gap left in between the stitches and the work. It is called duna-tanka or double stitch.

The themes or the motifs are based on the Chamba and the Kangra school of paintings. It depicts the famous Suhi fair, Shepherd and shepherdess moving with their goats, Krishna Lela and the scenes from the Mahabharata.

In early days the style of embroidery flourished to such an extent that the Chamba Rumal received the patronage of the ruling chiefs. The end of 18th century saw the downfall of this art. It was again revived in the 20th century by Raja Sham Singh of Chamba.

As an article of presentation to the foreign dignitaries, the Chamba Rumal was also recognized by the government of India and earned the national fame.

Chamba Chappals or Slippers

Chamba Chappals or slippers are sturdy, comfortable and attractive footwear, well suited for the needs of hill areas. In other parts of India, it is suitable for summer season.

The embroidery on leather goods has an interesting history. It was introduced by a Katoch princess, who was the sister of Raja Bir Singh of adjoining and erstwhile Nurpur state. She complained that she was being married to Raja Charat Singh of Chamba, where the handmade crude grass shoes instead of the embroidered ones were worn. In order to fulfill her wish a family of cobbler, belonging to Panj Baria village of Nurpur, was sent along with her as a dowry. the descendants of the family still reside in Chamba town and are known as Panj Barias. That is how the leather embroidery began in Chamba.

There are two types of Chappals, one is a plain footwear while the other is embroidered. The first are made by men and the latter are made by women. The major raw material is sheep and goat skin, fancy leather, suede leather, locally made ordinary sole leather, chrome leather for the upper portion of slippers, silver and gold threads locally known as russi-tilla and last but not the least is the embroidery skills.

The main products are the embroidered outdoor slippers, embroidered bedroom slippers, Salooni embroidered leather socks and shoes used commonly in Mehla, Bhattiyat, Tisa, and Salooni areas of Chamba district.

Presently new designs and variety have been added to the list with fancy shoes, sandals, shoes etc. About 1000 families in Dharog Mohalla of Chamba town are engaged in the profession.

The Chamba chappal has the distinction of being appreciated by the European Economic Community. The Handloom and Handicrafts Industries of the state has come to the rescue of this dying art and has set up a footwear factory and the production center for embroidery production at Chamba to keep the traditional art alive.

The Corporation is also providing the marketing facilities through emporiums set up at different places within and outside the state. New designs are now being introduced by keeping intact the basic and essential traditional spirit of local designs.

Now the demand for these products is increasing due to the inflow of tourists and visitors to Chamba and Dalhousie towns. Besides a switch over to leather footwear from grass shoes in Tissa and Pangi areas of the district.

Originally the foot-wares were made frоm locally produced leather but now the raw material comes from south India. The foot-wares for the women аre embroidered. Besides the foot wares аre purposefully made without the use of leather.

Traditonal Village Pots of Terracotta

Traditonal Village Pots of Terracotta


Another typical product of Himachal is the cap. The caps are of representative styles of the people of a particular area. These differ from region to region in color and designs. The green, red and blue caps are worn by the people of Kinnaur, whereas mixed colors are the characteristic of the caps of the Kullu valley

These colorful caps are worn equally by men and women and are also famous for an artwork of the people of Himachal Pradesh. These caps have similar woven designs as are used in shawls.

The caps are presented to the guests, dignitaries, and relatives, as a token of respect and love.

Hemp Fiber Shoes

A unique product and a major handicraft of Kinnaur is the woolen shoes. Elsewhere in the state, these shoes are known as pullans. These handmade shoes are preferably worn indoors during winters. The local designs are woven into the upper part of the shoes.

These soles of these shoes are either made of wool or the hemp fiber. The latter often have the upper part made of hemp too and sometimes silk is used inside their inner rough surface. But generally, the rough surface is preferred for acupressure effects. These are often made by elderly women of the house because the people rarely sit idle.

Further Reading- Hemp fiber shoes

© 2014 Sanjay Sharma


Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on July 09, 2016:

Thanks Greensleeves Hubs for the visit and the commen. You are absolutely right, the isolation of the region was a blessing in disguise.

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on July 02, 2016:

A very comprehensive look at the craft work of Himachal Pradesh. I think Sanjay any tourist will come back laden with souvenirs! :) Alun

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on April 18, 2015:

Thanks issidoroes martinez for the visit and the comment. You can contact me at- sanjay3664@gmail.com for further enquiries.

issidoroes martinez on April 18, 2015:

where can i buy hemp shoes from in himachal pradesh

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on September 22, 2014:

Thanks CrisSp for the visit and the comment. I am glad you liked the hub.

CrisSp from Sky Is The Limit Adventure on September 21, 2014:

Interesting! I own a brass hukka which I bought from the Middle East and it's always been a piece of conversation in my house.

Love the intricate details of wood carvings--beautiful!

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on January 25, 2014:

Thanks for the comment.

mylindaelliott from Louisiana on January 24, 2014:

Their work is so interesting and beautiful.

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