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Crafts Fair in the Roerich Estate, Naggar

At the fair, a number of craftsmen and artists from Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur and Kullu presented their handmade products.

On May 21-25, 2017, the International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT) hosted the Arts and Crafts Fair organized jointly with the Himachal State Museum, Shimla. The aim of the fair was to showcase, propagate and thereby preserve the traditional handicrafts and rich art traditions of the state of Himachal Pradesh. Mr. Hemraj Bherwa, Subdivisional Magistrate, Manali, was invited as the Chief Guest of the inauguration ceremony, which was also attended by Mr. Hari Chauhan, Curator, Himachal State Museum, Shimla, and Mr. Ramesh Chander, Indian Curator, IRMT.

While opening the fair, Mr. Hemraj praised the efforts of the two organizations in offering platform to traditional craftsmen and artists. He also expressed his appreciation of the fact that the fair was taking place at the height of the tourist season which would surely give opportunity to the multiple visitors of the Kullu valley to learn about the traditional art and culture of Himachal.

Mrs. Anuradha Thakur, Principal Secretary (Social Justice & Empowerment, Language Art & Culture, Irrigation & Public Health), Government of Himachal Pradesh, and Dr. Amit Guleria, Assistant Commissioner, Kullu District, who came to the IRMT on May 22, 2017 on official visit, were given a tour of the fair and interacted with the craftsmen.

One of the trees found all across the Kangra District is bamboo. It grows in clumps and has always been a handy and ample construction material for the locals who used it to cover their roofs and manufacture baskets and bread boxes. The tradition of bamboo works was represented at the fair by Mr. Vijay Kumar Mehra. He skillfully uses bamboo to give shape to many original ideas that he has developed over the years. He conceived and made a great number of objects used in everyday life: containers of various shapes and sizes, flower pots, pen stands, napkin holders, wind chimes, lampshades, and decorative items. He has also been making models of various historical, religious and landmark buildings in various parts of Himachal Pradesh. These include Baijnath temple, Pahari houses, the iconic Chistchurch in Shimla and the famous cricket stadium in Chamba. Some of them he chose to display at the fair.

No talk of the Himachali crafts will be complete without a mention of weaving. Weaving is perhaps the most vibrant of all the living crafts of Himachal. It was well represented at the fair by the Mr. Keshav Ram from Kinnaur and Mrs. Parvati Devi from Kullu working to preserve the traditional designs and motifs of their respective regions. They displayed a number of woven items including shawls, stoles, scarves made of wool, pashmina and angora. While Kulvi shawls and other textiles that combine stitching and weaving are known for their subdued colours, Kinnauri textiles are a rage of bright red, blue, and green which nevertheless remain in perfect balance and produce the sense of harmony. The designs in the two regions also differ. If Kulvi weavers have a marked preference for T-design, zigzag and walnut design, their Kinnauri counterparts prefer cross, swastika and stupa designs. The exhibited products demonstrated all of the above.

Two craftsmen from Bharmour Mr. Hukam Chand and Mr. Lehar Singh offered to the attention of the visitors of the fair various wooden objects. The entire Himalayan belt including Bharmour has long excelled in wood crafts. Traditionally local craftsmen made such practical household items as small-size containers for dry goods, cups, spoons, jewelry boxes, mortars and pestles, combs and of course masks for religious ceremonies. The objects were carved out of pest-resistant walnut wood and left unlacquered. And although nowadays such items are no more in use (except for the masks that continue to enjoy popularity and are annually worn at festivals), the above two craftsmen brought them to the fair. They also displayed a wealth of lacquered showpieces and gift items (carved wooden lions, birds, flowers, and apples) that greatly impressed the visitors.

Tibetan arts were represented by the pictorial works of the students of the Tibetan Children’s Village School (TCV), Patlikuhal. TCV was founded more than five decades ago as a charitable organization committed to the preservation and promotion of traditional Tibetan music, dance and painting among the Tibetan refugees in India, the population of Ladakh, Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti, and the broader public. Nowadays it consists of almost 20 schools, vocational training centers and related establishments. Thangka teacher from TCV (Patlikuhal) Mr. Kalsang Dambul demonstrated his students’ thangkas depicting various deities of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and executed with considerable skill and confidence.

Metal crafts were presented by the veteran Chamba craftsman Mr. Tilak Raj Shandilya and the Kullu craftsman Mr. Ved Ram. They exhibited brass and bronze masks – the distinctive feature of the Himalayan religious art. The masks executed in lost wax technique take at least a month to manufacture. It is not only a painstaking work but also a spiritual effort. “While preparing for the job, we listen to the stories of the deity we are asked to depict; we meditate on it, and then the deity itself guides our hand,” says Ved Ram. They also displayed incense burners, musical instruments widely used in the local religious ceremonies, finials for gods’ palanquins and trays with religious motifs. Local brass trays of the same type as were once collected by the Roerichs and presently displayed in the Himalayan Folk Art Gallery in the ‘Urusvati’ Institute buildings, used nowadays mostly as decorative items are intricately connected with religious life and depict the most popular Hindu deities: 10 incarnations of Vishnu and 9 forms of the Mother Goddess Durga. Craftsmen like Tilak Raj and Ved Ram receive multiple commissions from temples and museums to make masks and statues of various deities, which helps to preserve the tradition of Himachali metal casting rooted in hoary antiquity.

Mr. Anil Ahir displayed the leather sandals of Chamba. Traditionally they were manufactured by a few families exclusively for the court of the Princely State of Chamba. It was a very peculiar and aesthetically appealing design which went in combination with leather socks. However, under the influence of the British and in order to meet the ever changing requirements of the market the design was overtime simplified, and presently the traditional Chamba shoemakers offer open, embroidered sandals which are at once traditional, modern, practical and largely affordable.

Closing the fair, the Russian Curator of the IRMT Mrs. Larisa Surgina stressed the striking similarity of the Russian and Indian crafts which once again proved the Nicholas Roerich’s thesis of there being a common root of the two cultures. She drew the attention of the audience that the Roerichs were deeply interested in the Himalayan arts and crafts. They collected thangkas, bronzes and miniatures and displayed them in the museum of Himalayan art opened by them in the premises of ‘Urusvati’ Himalayan Research Institute. She also pointed out that while setting up the IRMT in 1992, Dr. Svetoslav Roerich conceived it not only as a depository of his family’s heritage but also as a vibrant center and museum of Himalayan art.

The exhibition-cum-demonstration of Pahari miniature paintings was the special attraction of the fair. Pahari painting flourished during 17th -19th century under the royal patronage in the Himalayan hill kingdoms in the present-day regions of Jammu, Himachal Pradesh and Garhwal. Of all schools of Pahari painting the most developed was perhaps the Kangra school. It is this style that was best represented at the exhibition. On display one could see the popular Barahmasa series (depicting lovers in various Indian seasons and landscapes that are skillfully employed to mirror their emotions), scenes with Radha and Krishna, Nayikabhed (the types of heroine), Shiva and his family, etc. Armed with a fine squirrel brush and using natural mineral and vegetable colours, the Pahari artists create the most delicate drawings astounding with their minute detailing. Profoundly lyrical, the Pahari paintings masterfully delineate human sentiments, and depict the beauty of nature and feminine charm with unsurpassed skill.

The exhibition showcased the works of five present-day Pahari artists: Mr. Balbinder Kumar Kangri (Kangra), Mr. Abhishek Sharma (Chamba), Mr. Nitin Kalyania (Shimla), Mr. Som Tamang (Nepal) and Mr. Kush Kapret (Shimla). All of them graduated from the Pahari Painting Department at the Institute of Integrated Himalayan Studies, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, which incidentally is the only place in India and the world for professional studies of the Pahari miniature painting.

Mrs. Kamala Chadha, the hereditary craftswoman teaching her craft at the Himachal Pradesh State Handicraft and Handloom Corporation, Shimla, exhibited the famous Chamba rumals stitched with silk thread on cotton cloth. She reproduces traditional rumal motifs including Durga, Radha and Krishna, Ras Lila (Krishna in a circular dance with cowherd girls), Shiva and Parvati, Ganesha, Gaddi-Gaddan (Pahari couple wearing traditional costumes in the backdrop of mountains), Hiran Nayika (heroine with deer), and Shikargah (hunting king).