History of Indian Handicrafts
Something ingrained and something learned, something in blood and something in mud, that’s what differentiates Indian Artisans and their artwork. Indian handicrafts are entrenched with the essence of our culture, values, tradition, and its beauty and richness.
The art of handicrafts is deeply rooted in the lap of Indian History, as the origin of handicrafts goes back to around 3000 BC, when one of the oldest civilizations of the world, the Indus Valley Civilization, was in full bloom. The craftsmen of Indus Valley Civilization developed a rich craft tradition and various forms of art, such as pottery, a sculpture of metal, stone and terracotta, gold ornaments, weaving, etc. The Harappan artisans even started trading with the outside world via sea routes. They excelled at technical superiority in their work and it still amuses today’s historians.
Handicrafts during Indus Valley Civilization
The period of 1500 BC – 500 BC, referred to as the Vedic Age, saw the development of new crafts such as pottery, leatherwork, jewelry, dying, carpentry, weaving, chariot-making, cart-making, metalworking, and sewing. There were four types of pottery in the later Vedic Age; black and redware, black slipped ware, painted grey ware, and redware.
Pottery during the Vedic Age
During the Mauryan Age, i.e. 322 BC -185 BC the art of making jewelry and stonework was of highly diversified order, as it comprised lofty free-standing pillars, railings of stupas, lion thrones, and other colossal figures. In this period more than 84,000 stupas are said to be built in India, including the epitome of beautiful stone carving, i.e. Sanchi Stupa.
The post- Mauryan Period, 200 BC – 300 AD, developed its handcrafts under the influence of foreign invasions from central Asia. The artworks of Indian craftsmen were swayed by these intrusions, as can be clearly seen in Buddhist sculptures from Taxila, Begram, Swat Valley, etc., which show a high degree of Greek influence. It showed remarkable growth in crafts of weaving silk and cloth making, sculpting, making leather products, jewelry, and arms. Metal handicrafts were at their zenith, a testament to which are a large number of artifacts discovered at excavated sites relating to the Kushan and Satavahanas Periods.
Buddhist Sculptures in Taxila
The Gupta Age, 320 AD – 647 AD, marked a great extent of development in the domain of sculptures. The rock-cut architecture of the period is represented by the two conventional types, i.e. the chaitya and the vihara. The paragons of the highly skilled craftsmanship and sculpting are the murals at Ajanta and Ellora. In various art forms, like painting, and handicrafts the Gupta Age achieved a high degree of proficiency.
Gradually, the Indian Handicrafts grew around the traditions, regional values, need of the commoners, and more prominently, around the desires of the elite rulers. In the Medieval period, the craft of pottery, weaving, wood carving, metalworking, and jewelry flourished in India. The medieval temple of Jagannath at Puri in Orissa depicts the beautifully designed rich and ornate wood and stone carvings.
The Golden Period in the history of Indian art and craft, i.e. the Mughal period marked the apex of unique handicraft items and textiles. The Mughals brought with them a rich heritage, which they acquired from Persia. They introduced Indian handicrafts to a whole new realm of art and handicraft, such as glass engraving, carpet weaving, brocade, enamelling, inlay work (like marble inlay handicrafts), etc. The cotton, silk and wool textiles flourished during their period. The famous Peacock Throne of Mughals is an epitome of the gem inlay work and metal craft, having few parallels in the world of art.
Indian Handicrafts was in its full bloom and gaining recognition worldwide when the Britishers intruded. The colonial rule leads Indian Handicrafts on the path of doom, as the Indian artisans faced huge competition from the machine-made goods which were imported from Britain. Moreover, the British policies compelled the Indian craftsmen to sell their goods at lower prices, which made many of them to abandon their ancestral trade.
Post-Independent India struggled to raise back its traditional handmade crafts and promote it all over again. Despite many hurdles, India held to its roots and was able to grow back its handicrafts such as pottery, woodcraft, metal craft, stone craft, and jewelry.
In modern India, handicrafts is still a medium of livelihood for many craftsmen, as it survived through industrial and technological revolutions and still blooms in today’s competitive world. They have gained special recognition all around the globe and are now considered a luxury. Traditional and ethnic handicrafts such as bamboo handicrafts, metal handicrafts, brass handicrafts, marble stone crafts, wooden handicrafts, blue pottery, terracotta works, and various paintings such as wars, Madhubani, pattachitra, Rajput, etc. have become popular as home décor items. Intricately designed jewelry based on traditional and glamorous patterns, such as Kundan, Thewa, Meenakari, etc. is admired by women all over the world. Moreover, in this thriving technological era, nothing is far and out of reach, handicrafts items have not only tapped the Indian market but has also reached foreign countries through online stores (link).