A soft spot to recline on…my new namda!

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Namda, felted rug, Kashmir. Courtesy: Sushmit.

Almost three years back, I fell in love with a namda created by a very close friend, who sells delightful products in Kashmiri tradition under the name of ‘Raffughar’. This Christmas when my friend finally decided to shift base to Delhi, I felt like a little boy, whose good behaviour was going to be rewarded by Santa himself. I got my rug and I am glad it didn’t fit into a stocking hanging on the mantel.

For readers, who are wondering what namdas are, they are traditional felted rugs that are made in and around Srinagar and Anantnag. Sheep wool is enmeshed with soap water under a lot of pressure and the resultant surface of these rugs is then reinforced by zalakdozi embroidery[1](embroidery in wool done with a hook called ara kunj, which appears like chain-stitch on the surface) depicting delicate multi-coloured floral and figurative patterns. These rugs are not only cheaper but also provide effective insulation in the cold northern weather, making them very popular.

The rug I acquired is made entirely of sheep wool with motifs in the natural breed colour. The robust motifs that occupy the field of the rug echo a faint influence of its distant cousin in Kyrgyzstan, the shyrdak rug. It is not surprising to see this unintentional reflection, as the tradition might have travelled back and forth, with felted rugs being made extensively in Iran and Central Asia. Here, they are called namads. They survived as a parallel tradition alongside carpets and kilims with their own share of importance. The more humble ones were used as base for expensive carpets,although the finer ones with embroidery formed a prominent item of décor. Scholar Hadi Maktabi has compiled numerous accounts of travellers in the post Safavid era about palaces in Iran being decorated with namads and carpets. He also illuminates a fine felted rug called takiyanamad, which was folded into four and was quite often seen under reclining princes in Persian paintings.[2]I will definitely be reclining in mine, but it is advised not to fold felted rugs as they tear and much care is to be taken to keep them from the reach of moths.

[1]Neelam Grewal. The Needle Lore: Traditional Embroideries of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. (New Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1988), 12-15.

[2]Hadi Maktabi, ‘Under the Peacock Throne: Carpets, Felts and Silks in Persian Painting, 1736-1834’ in Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World, Vol. 26, ed. Gülru Necipoğlu. (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 318-322.

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Namda, felted rug, Kashmir. Courtesy: Sushmit.
A soft spot to recline on…my new namda!

Painted Tales: Kalamkari paintings of Srikalahasti

Detail of a Kalamkari Painting. Courtesy: Sushmit .

One of the exquisite examples of hand painted textiles of India comes from the temple town of Srikalahasti in Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh. In the last century it sailed through murky waters, barely surviving with the help of patronage provided by temples and rich landlords. After Independence attempts were made to revive it to its former glory, which met with difficulties in the beginning but today these attempts paid off. The craft not only continues but also gaining immense popularity with demands from the fast emerging urban community.

The word, kalamkari, literally means working with a kalam (pen). The Srikalahasti style unlike the other kalamkari traditions heavily emphasises on the importance of the kalam and the entire painting is done free hand by an artisan using it. The process is painstakingly long, but to describe it in a simpler way, it begins with the preparation of the base cloth, which is soaked in a mixture of cow dung and bleach for hours and washed to get a uniform off-white colour.  After that,it is again soaked in a myrobolam and buffalo milk solution which would prevent the colours from smudging. Then it is washed again. Over this prepared cloth, stories are then outlined using a charcoal, made from burnt tamarind twigs, which are further darkened by a fermented jaggery-iron mixture or an alum mordant. The areas to be filled with colour are all done by hand using only vegetable colours. After that it is dried, washed and colour fixed using an alum solution.

The themes of the kalamkari paintings of this style are predominantly religious in nature, illustrating episodes of the great epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana. Various Hindu gods and goddesses along with their incarnations are also frequently painted. In the recent years, Biblical themes and life scenes of Sakyamuni are also seen, which is an attempt to reach out to a larger demographic.



Anand, Mulk Raj, ed. Homage to Kalamkari. Marg Publication, Volume XXXI Number 4, April 1979.

Ramani, Shakuntala. Kalamkari and Traditional Design Heritage of India. New Delhi: Wisdom Tree, 2007.

Varadarajan, Lotika. South Indian Traditions of Kalamkari. Bombay: The Perennial Press, 1982.

Detail of a Kalamkari Painting. Courtesy: Sushmit.
Painted Tales: Kalamkari paintings of Srikalahasti

A solace to the soul: The story of dhabla

A contemporary dhabla. Courtesy: Sushmit.

Reading a book or just soaking the warm sun-rays although a rare delight in the capital’s winter weather can be a moment to look for. Wrapped up in a coarse shawl called dhabla predominantly a man’s shawl can be cosy and slowly becoming quite popular. The dhabla is traditional shawl/blanket, the width of the blanket versions are wider which is achieved joining two lengths at the centre. These are all woven in a loom with the patterns achieved by an extra weft supplement. Most of these dhablos display intricate woven patterns which almost appear like embroidery. Weaving such a dhabla can be a very time intensive process requiring a great deal of skill. The Ahir dhabla comprises multi-coloured geometric patterns which can stretch the entire field of the product.

The weavers (vankars) of these exquisite shawls are basically from a migrant community of Meghwals from Rajasthan who are now settled and operate from a small village of Bhujodi, Gujarat. The main task of weaving is generally done by men, although women also join in the other related work.[1]A variety of products such as shawls, furnishings, stoles and shoulder cloths (khes) are made for their traditional clientele who are from various nomadic communities with rigid specifications in terms of design and pattern. The nomadic nature of its clientele finds it multi functional, used either as a shawl or wrapper and also transforms as a blanket at night, keeping the baggage lighter.

[1]Archana Shah.Shifting Sands, Kutch: A Land in Transition. (Ahmedabad: Bandhej Books, 2012), 157-158.

A solace to the soul: The story of dhabla

Indian Embroidery: The Kathipo style of Saurashtra

The Kathipo style of embroidery derives its name from the practitioners of this embroidery, the Kathis of Saurashtra. Their style formed one of the most prominent and oldest among embroidery traditions in Saurashtra.[i] An array of household articles such as torans (door hangings) and chaklas (festive wall hangings, large or small, generally in square format) were embroidered using heer or hir (floss silk threads) predominantly depicting geometric and figurative patterns. However, the Kathis stopped the practice of embroidery during the start of the last century.[ii] During this time, the Kathi landlords started employing members from the Mahajan merchant communities. This change played an instrumental role in the future of Kathi style, with Mahajans canonizing various Kathi motifs leading to a consolidated style.[iii] A prominent motif, kaliphul (an eight pointed star) quite often occupied the central position. The style of embroidery was also adopted by other groups, especially the Gohilvadi Rabaris.

The Mahajans preferred a machine made cloth as a base, over which they embroidered using heer or hir (floss silk) mainly in red or violet shades (almost monochromatic with few sprinkles of yellow, white and green). Most of the embroidery consisted of long herringbone stitch (khajuri-no tanko), with fairly regular geometric format comprising chess board and geometric patterns. The stitches were executed in both horizontal and vertical direction which gave a pleasing illusion of double shades (similar to phulkaris of Punjab). A typical Mahajan output will have a crenellated border (kangra) surmounted by a peacock foot-print (morpagala), followed by bands of lozenges and mirrors. The central portion consists of chequered borders (daria or adadia, also known as dana bhat) with the final field divided into four (chokhand) or nine quadrants (navakhanda).[iv]

The images below are from the author’s own collection, relatively later works, although one can see published examples of older examples in the form of torans[v] and chakla[vi] in various books.


[i] J. M. Nanavati, M. P. Vora and M. A. Dhaky. The Embroidery and Beadwork of Kutch and Saurashtra. (Gujarat: Department of Archaeology, 1966), 17-19.

[ii] Judy Frater. Threads of Identity: Embroidery and Adornment of the Nomadic Rabaris. (Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., 1995), 94.

[iii] J.M. Nanavati, 21.

[iv] Ibid., 22.

[v] Rosemary Crill. Indian Embroidery. (New Delhi: Prakash Book Depot, 1999), 95.

[vi] John Gillow and Nicholas Barnard. Indian Textiles. (New Delhi: Om Books International, 2008), 73.

Embroidered Toran. Courtesy: Sushmit.
Embroidered chakla. Courtesy: Sushmit
Indian Embroidery: The Kathipo style of Saurashtra

Votive Plaques of Molela

Votive Terracotta Plaque, Molela. Courtesy: Sushmit Sharma


Molela village lies near the temple town of Nathdwara in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. It is also easily accessible from the lake city of Udaipur. The potters or kumhars of this village are renowned far and wide for their terracotta products, especially the ritual plaques.

These plaques depicting local gods and goddesses are made for their traditional clientele, who belong to the tribal groups of Bhil, Gujari and Garijat. Many of them travel hundreds of kilometres which can even stretch to far off places in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, to buy these plaques from the potters of Molela. It is customary to replace these plaques depicting idols from time to time and hence, they arrive at Molela accompanied by their priests, Bhopas, to select the appropriate icon. The potter is paid with respect in cash, grain, a coconut and 1.25 metres of cotton cloth (red for female deity and white for male deity). This is followed by a procession to the nearby Banas river where the deity is worshipped after which it makes the final journey to be installed in homes or village shrines amidst prayers and festivities.[1]

Clay is procured from the Banas river bed which flows in close vicinity to the village and is prepared with added donkey dung and husks to make it easier for moulding. The plaques are hand moulded except for the embellishments of the domed chhajja which are wheeled turned. All the figures are created entirely by fingers and kept hollow to avoid breakage during the firing process. At completion, they are left to dry on the sun for hardening.  After which they are stacked and set afire on a temporary kiln. These plaques are traditionally painted with natural colours with a final coat of lacquer or left plain.

Incarnations of Hindu gods and goddesses as well as local heroes are delightfully represented in these plaques. One of the prominent images is of two deities referred to as Kala-Gora, who are the two forms of Shiva. Kala painted in dark blue, being Bhairava (the terrific manifestation) and Gora in orange, is Virabhadra. Kala is generally appeased with the offering of liquor and animal sacrifice while Gora being calm, offered sweet meats.[2] Another local deity Dev Narayan also called Dharamraj is represented frequently as an equestrian figure holding a spear. Dev Narayan is also attributed with the tale of origin of Molela terracotta, appearing in the dream of a blind potter instructing him to create his image in clay with the promise of a secured livelihood, which was later continued by his descendants. Other deities such as Pabuji, Sandmata (mother goddess who rides a camel), Singhmata (form of Durga), Bhunaji and Mahenduji (form of Vedic Rudra and Indra respectively), and a local camel mounted god referred to as the King of Rabaris are also represented. Popular mainstream gods like Ganesh and Krishna also enters the repertoire with intricate Kalya-daman scenes and so on. But in recent years the craft gaining recognition as a novelty interior décor, an array of tiles and other products are made by the potters of this village. Now, to attract the fancy of the city-dwellers cheerful village scenes are executed with similar attention to detail.

[1] Jane Perryman. Traditional Pottery of India.(London: A &C Black Publishers Ltd., 2000), 119.




Huyler, Stephen P. Gifts of Earth: Terracotta and Clay Sculptures of India. Ahmedabad: Mapin Publication Pvt. Ltd., 1996.

Doshi, Sharyo, ed. Tribal India: Ancestors, Gods and Spirits. Mumbai: Marg Publication, 1992.


Votive Plaques of Molela

Jaipur Blue Pottery

The shops in Jaipur especially the ones around Amer, display some spectacular ceramic plates and vases. In dazzling shades of blue, green and yellow, these ceramics show romantic florals sprays, arabesques, cantering horses, elephants and camels. There are also occasional depiction of Persianate ladies playing the lute and the ideal Rajasthani belle promoted by Kishangarh kalam. These ceramics are known all over the country as the famed Jaipur Blue pottery. Being one of the few surviving pottery traditions, this unique art form derives its name from its surface which is hand painted in prominent shades of blue.

The blue pottery emerged with the setting up of Jaipur School of Art in 1866 under the patronage of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II. The task of developing the school was given to Dr. Alex Hunter, who modelled it based on his previous experimentations conducted in the Madras school of Art and their subsequent success. This involved a thorough initial geological survey to find locally available minerals to give the pottery its own flavour.[1] Although another local version relating to its origin, talks poetically, how Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II was impressed by two brothers, Churamani and Kaluram, two local potters who had coated their kite string with blue and green dust of the their pottery and managed to cut off the imperial kite. They were honoured with posts in the Jaipur School of Art and later settled in Goonga Mehra ki Gali in Gangori Bazaar, creating blue pottery.[2] All though the art form was nearly dead in the second quarter of the century, it was revived with fresh directions after the independence of the country.

Unlike other pottery tradition in India, there is no use of clay in Jaipur blue pottery. The mixture contains ground quartz (100 kilograms), green glass (22-44 kilograms), fuller earth locally known as multani mitti (0.5 kilograms), borax (0.5 kilograms) and gum (1 kilogram), which is kneaded into a dough and moulded.[3] The pottery is partly moulded and partly wheel-turned, and then the parts are joined together. The surface is painted using various mineral pigments (metal oxides), which transforms into the desired colour after firing.  For example, the two most prominent colours, turquoise and ultramarine are obtained from copper oxide and cobalt oxide respectively. Apart from the shades of blue, the contemporary blue pottery products also introduce shades of yellow, green and red, which are also achieved by mineral oxides. On the final stage the pottery is finished with a glass glaze.

The initial repertoire from this pottery tradition comprised of phuldans (flower vases) surahis (flasks), mir-e farsh (carpet weights) and other spouted vessels. These can be seen exhibited in the museums, especially the Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur and few in the decorative art gallery of the National Museum, New Delhi. The product range today, however, have evolved into coasters, pen stands, vases, plates, idols, crockeries and so on.


[1] Kristine Michael, ‘Earthen Jewels: Pottery Treasures from the Hendley Collection’ in Treasures of the Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur, ed. Chandramani Singh. (Ahmedabad: Mapin Publication Pvt. Ltd., 2009), 50.

[2] Aditi Ranjan and M P Ranjan, eds., Crafts of India: Handmade in India. (New Delhi: Council of Handicraft Development Corporation, COHANDS, 2007), 83.

[3] Ilay Cooper and John Gillow, Arts and Crafts of India. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996), 21.


Other Reference:

Chattopadhayay, Kamaladevi. Handicrafts of India. New Delhi: Indian Council for Cultural Relations, 1995.

Jaipur Blue Pottery

Assamese handwoven tongali on the spotlight

Brave Assamese warriors before their final departure to the battle field, would tightly tie the tongali, a waistband, handwoven with love by their wives. An act, “kokalot tongali bondha” meaning to tie a tongali at the waist, became over the years a metaphor for getting ready for a challenge, an event or maybe even a school test. A humble version of this famed girdle, gifted in the 1950’s to the National Museum, New Delhi, by the Cottage Industries Museum, Guwahati (Assam) has been chosen to be the “Object of the Month”, to celebrate the National Handloom Day. This is the very same day in the history of India, 7th of August 1905, when the Swadeshi Movement was proclaimed, to discard everything foreign and moving back to indigenous textiles and products. A stand to stop flooding of Indian markets with cheap industrial textiles by the British.

The tongali with its delicate floral butis and fringes (dohi-bota), illuminated by the spotlights, hangs with pride representing every handwoven textile from rural India, hoping to gain our attention for revival and appreciation of our woven heritage.

Assamese handwoven tongali on the spotlight

Panja Dhurries: Floor Coverings of Rural India

Moving a little away from the blue city, Jodhpur, with its ever mighty and vigilant Mehrangarh fort, one enters the realms of nature loving communities that inhabit them. Peacocks resting in the shade of the thorny trees, nilgais trying to reach the tallest of branches for food and even herds of antelopes grazing in the afternoon sun, makes it a wonderful experience. The locals, here, believe in staying in harmony with nature for which they even feed quintals of food grains to their regular guests, the Demoiselle cranes, who fly thousands of miles all the way from Eurasia to flock in hundreds every year. Within this wilderness, it is the home of the famous panja dhurries, a name acquired because of the claw shaped tool used for making these rugs. Initially, the weavers created these rugs out of coarse animal hair, either goat or camel. Therefore, these rugs were almost monochromatic, with only the natural breed colour of the animal. Also, known as jhatpatti[i] rugs, literally meaning made in haste, they were used only for domestic purpose. Today with wider options and not ignoring market demands, they are also woven with dyed cotton yarns depicting various complex geometric patterns with playful colours.

[i] Aditi Ranjan and M.P. Ranjan, eds. Crafts of India: Handmade in India. (New Delhi: Council of Handicraft Development Corporations, COHANDS, 2007), 112.­­­


Other interesting reads on Dhurries:

Chaldecott, Nada. Dhurries: History, Pattern, Technique and Identification. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 2003.

Chattopadhayay, Kamaladevi. Indian Carpets and Floor Coverings. New Delhi: All India Handicrafts Board, Date of publication not mentioned.

Cohen, Steven. The Unappreciated Dhurrie: A Study of the Traditional Flatwoven Carpets of India. Edited by David Black and Clive Loveless. London: David Black Oriental Carpets, 1982.

Panja Dhurries: Floor Coverings of Rural India

The Blessed Couple: The Tradition of Gangaur

The festival of Gangaur is celebrated by various communities in the state of Rajasthan, especially by the women folk for a blissful married life. The word, ‘Gangaur’, itself symbolically indicate to the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvati, with ‘gan’ referring to Lord Shiva and ‘gaur’ to Gauri or Parvati. The street shops of Jodhpur are full of idols of this divine couple, Gauri and her husband Isar (Lord Shiva). They are made of different mediums, wood being the most popular one.

Represented in true Rajasthani style and fashion, these idols can become a perfect souvenir to carry back home with wide range of option in sizes, from few centimetres to a meter in height. Their depiction can vary for different ethnic groups, which also widens the range of choice.

The Blessed Couple: The Tradition of Gangaur

A Wonderful Chrysalis of Melting Wax: Sri Lankan Batik

The art of Batik making is relatively a new industry that established itself amidst the greenery of Sri Lanka. Being a cottage industry, it employs local artisans, who create various repertoires of products in which one can see the glimpses of Sri Lankan life. Some of the earliest examples of batik works displayed individuality of the artist with varied themes and emotions, but over the years the art has degenerated to a fewer quick selling themes, the procession of the tooth relic in Kandy being one of the popular ones. Products like cushion covers, table-cloths, sarongs, shirts and wall hangings to name a few, are a big craze among the hordes of tourist that flock in this tropical paradise, although one may be cautioned to buy only the authentic batiks as many are fakes.

A visit to a state owned (?) Batik making factory, it was realised the time intensive process of the art form, which also makes it extremely expensive. Every design requires several process of waxing and dyeing, the waxed space resists the dye and only the desired space which remains uncovered with wax, gets coloured. Even when the design is finished; it goes through several processes of cleaning and finishing.

A Wonderful Chrysalis of Melting Wax: Sri Lankan Batik