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Evolution of Indian Handicrafts

Indian handicrafts represent the dignity, style and beauty of Indian culture. Indian handicrafts are as diverse and rich as Indian history. The crafts from each part of India are unique and have been admired since centuries all over the world and reflect the influence of different Indian empires and eras.

The evolution of Indian handicrafts is rooted in the lap of Indian history and goes back to 5000 years ago where the tradition of hand made items used to whirl around religious values and they were designed to impress the rulers of the time. In 3000 BC, since Indus-valley civilization, several forms of arts and crafts have originated which can be found in museums today. Since then a significant development took place in crafts like textile, stone, metal, painting, pottery and wood. The art of making hand made items initially began as an expression of inner creativity and evolved for trade and commerce, royalty and common people, in the later course. The tradition of using hand made products flourished and evolved as per the needs of common people. Most of the handicraft and its technique have come from the land of art and craft-Iran. Different dynasties and empires witnessed different handicrafts and patronized the respective art to help it evolve and rise. One of the oldest (more than 4000 years) handicrafts of India that is still being used is Dhokra (a distinct style of metal casting).

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Domestic and foreign trade also played an important role in the evolution of Indian handicraft industry. Since time immemorial Indian artisans and their innovative ideas have left the people across the globe spell bound and amazed by the distinct and appealing pieces of art. Lets have a quick look over the various periods in history where the beautiful art of making hand made items survived and evolved over their machine made counterparts:

Development of Indian Handicrafts

Vedic Era 

The Indus Valley civilization was followed by the Vedic age. In Rig Veda and in Upanishads, reference to a variety of crafts like pottery, wood and metals is found. Although there is no evidence of hand made item found during the time when Vedas were written.

Harappan Era

A rich tradition of craft and a high degree of technical excellence in the field of pottery, sculpture (metal, stone and terracotta) and wood can be seen during the Harappan period. It is the time where the craftsmen designed products according to the needs of local people and supplied them to other countries too via sea route.

Mauryan Era

Mauryan age witnessed the beautiful art of sculpturing in the 3rd century B.C. During this period a number of stupas, including the world famous Sanchi Stupa with beautiful stone carving was built. Making of contemporary jewelry was also one art that flourished well during this period. The iron pillars of Vaishali (Bihar) and Delhi created during the reign of Emperor Ashoka are the finest example of metallurgy.

Post Mauryan Era 

In the period between 1st century BC and 1st century AD the handicrafts of jewelry, sculpture, textile, leather products and metal working ushered reflecting more of British influence but later on changed as per the Indian craft scenario.

Gupta Era 

The Gupta (AD 320-647) age is referred to as the most classical period in the evolution of Indian handicrafts and includes the spectacular rock cut temples of Ellora and Ajanta. The craftsmen during Gupta period excelled in jewelry making, woodcarving, sculpting, stone carving and weaving.

Medieval India 

The Medieval period of Indian history in the context of handicrafts showed a marked shift from north India to Deccan and southern parts of the country. A high amount of royal treasure used to be spent in carving the walls of temples, and the sculptors too earned a handsome amount. The finest example of stone carving of medieval times can be seen in Khajuraho temple of Madhya Pradesh. Rich and ornate wood and stone carving can be found in Jagannath temple at Puri in Orissa.

There are lots of different types of Indian handicrafts conveying their history and story of struggle. For example the beautiful art behind some famous Indian paintings like Madhubani, Thanjavur, Warli and Miniatures has evolved and adapted well with time. These paintings mainly portray Mughal style. Another good example is the appealing wooden handicraft items from our country which faced all highs and lows and evolved gracefully thereafter.

Today Indian handicraft has an unsurpassable position in the global market, after suffering a lot of struggle. As a result, along with the Indian craft, Indian craftsmen are also in great demand all over the world. The products that are commonly admired by other countries and are exported from India are hand crafted jewelry, hand printed textiles and scarves, embroidered and crocheted garments, bags and purses, Mysore and Banarasi silk ,Kashmiri  shawls, leather belts, toys and an array of household and decorative items.

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