Think Madhya Pradesh and handicrafts together, and most people will come up with the exquisite Chanderi fabric. Although this well might be what Madhya Pradesh is most popularly associated with, the state has lots of other crafts to offer. You’ll be spoilt for choice, because the offerings here range from fabric, rugs, figurines and rag dolls to the precious zari work that has been practiced for centuries. Here we take a look at Madhya Pradesh’s amazing arts & crafts heritage, so the next time you travel to the state, you’ll know what to look for.
The famous Chanderi fabric is a hand-woven combination of silk and cotton. The town of Chanderi, where the craft originated, is still home to master weavers who practice the age-old tradition of creating the cloth on handlooms. Chanderi saris, woven in subtle, pleasant colours, with a rich gold border, are the most popular. The traditional bootis, or motifs, of the saris include lotuses and peacocks. It is said that when this incomparable cloth was first woven, the only colour used was an extraction from the much-prized saffron herb. The delicacy of the weave and the ratio of silk to cotton are the factors that decide the worth of the sari. Nowadays, you can also find scarves, salwar kameez and mens’ jackets made with Chanderi cloth.
Maheshwari is also a fabric, somewhat similar to Chanderi. It is said to have originated from Maheshwar, a city approximately 90 km from Indore. The fabric was created by weavers, who were brought from Surat by Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar (1725-1795) to weave cloth for the royal household. The queen, particularly partial to floral designs, and thus the weavers, commanded to only create geometrical motifs, drew inspiration from the detailing of the Maheshwar Fort.
Thus, even today, the main difference between Maheshwari and Chanderi saris is the former’s distinctive design, which comprises checks and stripes, while Chanderi has a less austere touch with pretty floral motifs woven throughout the sari.
Although block prints are largely associated with Rajasthan, the residents of Madhya Pradesh much prefer their own bagh prints. This bold, vibrant hand-block printing originates from Bagh village in the district of Dhar. While there are several imitations of the original print now, the real stuff is still made with organic dyes – and you can tell which is authentic by the cloth’s distinctive smell.
The process is slow, and involves treating the cloth in a mixture that includes sea salt and castor oil. The prints –geometrical, floral patterns –themselves are done by hand, and the teakwood blocks used for printing are also crafted painstakingly by hand.
Durries (rugs) in Madhya Pradesh have been made for centuries near Sironj, a city in Vidisha district, though now they are also made in Jabalpur and Shahdol, among other places. Made of thick cotton, the durries are woven by a technique called ‘punja’. They come in vibrant colours, with bold patterns and folk designs, including birds and animal motifs, and geometric weaves.
BATTO BAI DOLLS
Named after their creator, a craftswoman from Gwalior, Batto Bai dolls are now made in Bhopal and Jhabua as well. Made of rags and paper, these rustic dolls are influenced by the different cultures of the country. These are charmingly dressed in bright, traditional clothing, and in varying sizes, which can go up to 5 ft in height.
Zari is a metallic thread, used for weaving and embroidery. It was originally made of gold or silver, which is no longer the case. However, that hasn’t lessened the beauty of this craft, where talented artisans use the metallic thread to embroider delicate, intricate designs on items ranging from clothes and jootis (slippers) to bags. Bhopal’s cacophonic Chowk market, in the middle of the old city, is where you can find beautifully embroidered and beaded batuas (purses).
Craftspeople in Madhya Pradesh have an age-old tradition of working with leather. The state’s stuffed leather toys are famous, with camels, zebras and elephants being the most popular. The craft has evolved over time, and today Gwalior is known for shoes, and Indore and Dewas for leather apparel. Most factories in Dewas, in fact, create apparel for large fashion houses based in Europe and the US.
Although you will find beautifully made metal objects, ranging from idols of gods and goddesses to items of home décor across the length and breadth of Madhya Pradesh, Tikamgarh is where it all originated. The craft of bell metal casting has been practiced here for many centuries. The technique used is lost-wax casting, where a duplicate sculpture is cast from an original one, using wax as a mould. Although the number of craftspeople in Tikamgarh has declined, the few artisans that are left behind still make exquisite figurines, lamps, vessels and toys that are appreciated the world over.