Skip to main content

The Traditional Decorative Designs of India

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.


The history of India reveals the great importance attached to the craftsmen and how happy they lived under the patronage of the temple, the state or the court. The common folk in such a surrounding developed an eye for an object of art, and thereby cherished and took pleasure in owning a thing of beauty, thus revealing their responsive taste in aesthetics.

It was the appreciation of their work and genius that encouraged the craftsman to specialize in one particular discipline, so as to create an unusual quality in an object intricately executed. The essential details and know-how and the secrets of trade passed on from father to the son, which thus survived through generations maintaining the great tradition of superb craftsmanship in objects even in daily use.

However during the last century or so the diverse interests of people distracted them and they began patronizing the mechanically produced things. The foundation of the ancient art which was firmly laid down by the ceaseless struggle of many luminaries came to be neglected so much that these foundations were ruthlessly demolished. In the storm of modernity, many families of these masters withered away like autumn leaves.

Whatever might have been behind these changes, it is now time to repair the damage done and retain the olden glory and pomp in the interest of Indian art for the posterity.

From time immemorial the man has tried hard to satisfy the innate desire of personal adornment. In the beginning, he used the dried grass, stalks of creeper, seeds, fruits, sea-shells, bones, pebbles, stones and boulders to make himself distinct and attractive. He created different forms out of these materials to soothe his aesthetic needs, depending upon the availability of each material. He also took into consideration the human body, its form, and needs, while giving individuality to the material.

Being in direct contact with nature, which he carefully observed, he imaginatively some of its fine forms and elements. The straight lines and curves he observed in nature showed him how to utilize a simple design to which he gave a meaning.

Different people evolved different shapes depending upon their surroundings on which their basic inspiration rested. Different habits, religious rites, and rituals also helped him in the adoption of different rarities of natural objects somewhat differently.

In Persia, for instance, the fruits and flowers were important motivations; in Japan, it was Fujiyama and cherry; in Greece, it was olive and palm; in Rome, it was grapes and pine; in China it was the dragon; in India and Egypt, it was lily and lotus and so on.

A culture based mainly on achievements of craft and art forms the basis on which the general standard and prosperity of its people rest, and by which it is judged.

Toys and Pottery

The basic study of the culture of the nation is the study of its toys and pottery. The Indian toys, pots, and pans seem to derive their origin from the civilization of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, with a view to having a greater economy of material and ornamentation. The perfect designs occupy the fields in the form of dolls and toys with various representations of miniature characters in clay or wood.

The customs, manners, dress, habits, occupations, and amusements etc. form the subject matter of these toys. Besides fruits, flowers, vegetables, birds, beasts, gods and goddesses along with various other happenings of the village life also appear in them.

The Indian toys chiefly of wood, clay, cloth, paper, and soft stones. Punjab is famous for its terracotta and straw dolls. Rajasthan is famous for its clay toys and Orissa has a variety of toys in many media. The figurines of Jaganathpuri are most attractive for their intricate value.

In South India, the toys are carved out of sandalwood. The models in clay and wood from the epics like Puranas and folklore not only stimulate the imagination but produce upon one’s mind a perennial impression of the moral teachings that are invariably connected with the rich legendary lore of the nation.

The wealth of India is indeed bewildering. There is a vast field with impressive varieties such as pottery, mud wall paintings, jewelry, coins, arms and finally textiles of all kinds.

The curious resemblance of the pottery of today with that of Harappa era is not accidental. The tradition remains unbroken and its even flow permeates leaving a distinct stamp of an era with its rich historical background. The brushwork executed with black on the surface of all the pots and pans has floral and geometrical patterns. The main shapes of the pots are clearly of Harappa origin.

The Paintings on Mud Wall

It is another outlet through which decorative patterns employed by the common folk become manifest. It is an attempt at beautifying the surroundings giving an aesthetic meaning to the otherwise drab walls.

Scroll to Continue

It is associated with religion and propitious occasions, so as to encourage its use by all. In the remote areas of India, some exquisitely painted walls are found in form and motives in different regions and designed for different purposes. The deity always occupies a central place with floral and animal forms providing an appropriate decorative design. At places and on some occasions, the only geometric arrangement as a motif is preferred.

The Carvings

The patterns and motifs used in carvings on the wood, stone, textiles, and arms like swords and shields are the same. Sometimes it seems that the same design has been in various objects of different sorts and utilized for different occasions.

The seals of Mohenjo-Daro, the sculptor of Sanchi and Mathura and the wall paintings of Ajanta are the storehouse of Indian art.


The Indian jewelry is as varied as any other form of art and craft and is embedded in tradition. Ornaments lure all. They are not in any way less enchanting. We have in our old literature, vivid descriptions of different types of ornaments used by our ancestors. The jewelry is mainly of two types, one is Jaraoo Kundan or cast gold and the other is Chitra or enamel work. The design and motif are usually the same in both these types.

The details of Chitra work are executed with great precision. The peacock is the man symbol used in jewelry. The other motifs are fairies flowers and birds. Some motifs and some techniques have often been used in the inlay of the metal or in embroidery and embossing works. The mesh or Jali work of the Mughal period is worth mentioning.


The Indian textile has a rightful claim to be the foremost industry, the credit of which goes to the rich artistic heritage in all forms of plastic creations. The series of Benaras, Patola, Decca, and Balachaur give us any number of patterns, forms and motifs to see and wonder for their creation in the first instance. The richness of our textiles is due to the inspiration derived from the ancient paintings.

The best example of how a thing of pure domestic use prepared by the uneducated and rustic village women can assume such a great value as a work of art. The best example is provided by the Kantha or bed sheet or quilt embroidery of Bengal. It is a type of embroidery in a folk manner which shows the deft hands and perfect color selection at its best.

Similarly in the remote villages of Tripura, Manipur and other interior places in Assam, one can find a rich panorama of woven, painted and embroidered textile.

The blankets first woven and then embroidered with figures and geometric designs are very strong and aesthetic in their execution and beautiful conception. The colorful borders with figures from Ajanta and monochromes from the temples of Orissa offer a beautiful array of the fiber to build their design upon.

Apart from the decorative and fine specimens in other materials, some of the best and the embroidered textiles are found in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. The shawls of Kashmir with grapes and fruit designs and floral motifs are famous throughout the world. The shawls of Himachal Pradesh also have beautiful geometric designs.

The Phulkari of Punjab, especially from the Bhatinda region till present times has an unsurpassed richness, with exquisite designs, perfect color combination and beautiful patterns.

The Chamba Rumal or handkerchief still lure the beholder with its artistic beauty as it looks same on both sides of the texture.


The vast storehouse of innumerable traditional motifs and patterns is a subject of further research. These artifacts inspire and stimulate many a generation. All these designs from different regions of the subcontinent are influenced by local conditions and environment which can be clearly seen in their local color. There are endless possibilities for the adoption of these forms in the modern industrial designing.

A great care is, however, necessary to ensure that the old motif should smoothly integrate into the next object. The cursory adoption of ancient designs will hardly serve any fruitful purpose. Mere copying of these designs here and there will not do anything and will earn a bad name to the tradition without adding anything new. Every motif has a special value relating to the functional utility of its being an object meant for adornment or beautification.

Now a stage has come when the countless and infinite verities of decorative designs should not be considered merely a subject of academic studies and research. Instead, every possible endeavor should be made to recapture something of the form and inherent beauty of the designs, and adopt them in modern objects, thus deriving maximum benefit and enjoyment.

© 2014 Sanjay Sharma


Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on June 21, 2014:

The isolation of centuries in inaccessible places has given the chance to the people to develop the handicrafts.

mylindaelliott from Louisiana on June 21, 2014:

The craftsmanship is just amazing. Great hub and pictures.

Related Articles