Rajasthan is one place in India that is full of handicrafts and art work. Not only are the works of Rajasthan colorful and vibrant, they are also world famous for their design, intricacy and beauty.
While understanding the origin and patterns of these artworks is of great interest, it’s also important to be able to distinguish the authentic one. Because if you want to take some back home with you or you want to buy some gifts, its equally important to buy the authentic ones. Because, this not only would give you the satisfaction of picking the right thing, but also benefit (and encourage) the thousands of artisans whose hard work goes behind these creations. After roaming around in the shops, visiting artist villages and government emporia, and interacting with various people involved in the trade, what I learnt that the authenticity of true Rajasthani things is in the way they have been manufactured. The authentic items, be it pottery, painting, or textile, are made with hands using organic or natural materials and colors. You will get similar products at cheaper prices from local shops, but they will not be hand woven or hand made because they would have used chemical dyes and artificial colors.
So, here’s a list of authentic Rajasthani art, textile and handicrafts for you:
Hand block prints are the traditional art of Rajasthan. The block printing is done with hand, on plain white cloth, with natural colors extracted from fruits, vegetables, spices and stones. There are machine block prints also available that use chemicals and artificial dyes, and come at lesser price, but are far from the true essence of hand block printed materials. Hand block prints come on rolls of cloths, bedsheets, unstitched dress materials, readymade hand woven kurtas etc. These can be bought all across Rajasthan. There is a small village near Amer in Jaipur, which specializes in hand block printing. The work from the village artists are then sold across government emporiums and government backed stores in Jaipur and Amer.
Tie-dye bandhej prints
Tie-Dye bandhej are again popular prints of Rajasthan and Gujarat region. They are prepared by first tying grains of different sizes to cloth pieces and then soaking those cloth pieces in natural colors extracted from plants and stones. After the cloth dries off, the grains are released from the cloth and as a result a pattern appears in the area where the grain was tied. There are different shades of tie dye bandhej cloths. They are highly popular as unstitched dress materials, dupattas (scarf and stole as well) and sarees. The original ones used to come on cotton fabric. Now, one can get them on crepe, silk and synthetic fabrics as well. Jodhpur is said to have the best tie – dye cloths. However, I found the markets of Udaipur also quiet good. If you are clubbing your Jaipur visit with any of these cities, hold on the tie-dye shopping in Jaipur, do it in Udaipur or Jodhpur.
Mojris are handcrafted footwear. They are made by artisans of Rajasthan using tanned leather. The fine work and the royal style of the footwear immediately wins one's heart. The prices of these shoes in the markets of Rajasthan are very reasonable. The leather is embroidered with brass nails, shells, mirrors, bells and ceramic beads. All the bondings and stitching are done through cotton threads, making it an eco-friendly product. Their origin dates back to the Mughal era.
Crepe Bandhej Sarees
Crepe bandhej sarees have the same pattern as the tie-dye bandhej dress materials and sarees. But they are very lightweight. They have a very nice shine about them. The crepe bandhej sarees come in single color as well as various pretty color combinations. We bought some crepe bandhej sarees on our recent trip to Jaipur and Udaipur. Each of the color combinations were beautiful. There were combination of orange and red, pink and red, pink and orange, deep and light blue, maroon and mehendi (turtle) green and multicolor shades like blue, red and orange etc. The ones in complete black were also very nice. The best Mojris are found in Jaishalmer. However, you can get them all across Rajasthan.
The mechanism of Leheria printing is similar to the bandhej tie-dye. Only, instead of grains, a thread is tied in circles around the cloth and then it is dyed. When the thread is released, the place where the thread was tied remains white while the rest of the cloth gets colored. Leheria pattern looks very pretty in sarees and dupattas. Synthetic Leheria sarees start at a very affordable price range. The shades of the sarees and dupattas available span across all color combinations. They are again available all across Rajasthan.
Jaipur is famous for it's Razai or quilt. They are also fondly called dohars (wherein you can use them from both the sides). Unlike other quilts and blankets made in other parts of the world, these Razais have the unique property of retaining heat in the winter season and providing a cooling effect in summer season. As a result, they are apt for all seasons. They come in beautiful floral prints and block prints. The inside of the Razai is layered with cotton wool. Good quality ones are as light as just 100grams. Upon folding they turn very compact and thus, can be easily carried.
Pitchwai and miniature paintings
Rajasthani paintings are very minute and intricate. There are paintings depicting the royal families, weddings, king's troops, royal parties, elephant rides and camel rides, beautiful ladies, royal decorated animals, and many other things. The beauty of the paintings lies in the details captured and the bright colors used. They are simply unique. The paint color used in the authentic Pitchwai and miniature paintings are all naturally extracted from stones, vegetables and flowers. Camel hair brush is used to make the paintings. Some intricate and large paintings even take months to finish.
Rajasthan, particularly Jaipur, is famous for precious stones and gemstones. Jaipur has a dedicated market called Johri Bazar where one would find lots of jewelry shops and gemstone shops. The rates here are quiet reasonable compared to other parts of the country. The stones are available in different cuts and shapes and kinds. There is a huge range to satisfy all needs and tastes.
Lah bangles are another beautiful art of Rajasthan. These bangles are made by local artisans. In places like Shilpgram, one can see the artisans baking lah and shaping the bangles. Then they are painted with patterns in natural color. They come in different width. I found them to be comparatively lightweight when compared to the lah bangles manufactured in other parts of the country. They come in a rainbow of colors - which we normally don’t get in other parts of the country. They are a must buy in Rajasthan.
Katha stich material
Katha is a famous embroidery done in the Mewar and Kutch regions of India. In a typical Katha work, several different prints and patterns are stitched together to form a base, and several parallel thread stitches are made on them to provide strength. It looks very attractive and has great durability. Katha work comes on textiles like sarees and unstitched dress materials, kurtas, and home linen like bedcovers, cushion covers, divan sets and dohars. The stitches are hand done by artists and take a good amount of time to complete. They are best picked directly from the artists or government emporiums.
I had not heard the concept of organic sarees until I happened to visit Shilpgram and a government emporium in Udaipur. These sarees are made of thread that is spun out of bamboo trees and custard apple trees which are organically grown, thus making these garments completely organic and natural. There are unstitched dress materials also available in similar fabric but the sarees are particularly charming. They don't need any starch. When dried in sun, they become naturally stiff. When dried in shade, they remain soft. They have silk like texture. Since they are natural and recyclable, to promote the industry, government is running an offer where in, if the item is returned after use (there is no limit to the duration of use or the condition of the item at the time of returning), 50-75% of the purchase price would be refunded.
Earthenware are yet another famous artwork of Rajasthan. Pots, idols, miniature boxes decorated in beautiful patterns can be spotted all over. Particularly famous is the blue pottery of Jodhpur. The pots and earthenware have white base with beautiful blue floral painting done on top. They come in miniature versions as well to make it easy for buying and carrying with you. I am sure I am still missing a lot many crafts of Rajasthan, its simply that rich. Before I headed here, I did a lot of reading on the net and found most of the articles taking about famous local markets whenever someone asked of shopping. However, I found the reality to be a little different. It’s true that the products stacked in the local markets are cheap and seem to be a real bargain. But there is no guarantee to their authenticity. Having said that, I don’t mean all of them are unauthentic. But, you should be able to make the right choice. Head there accompanied by a local who has a good knowledge to pick the right products. Or else, do your homework vigilantly, shortlist the shops with good review and sharpen your bargaining skills. However, if you want to cut short on these hassles, head to an authentic government emporium. The prices would be fixed but the quality ensured. Rajasthali is the only store that I could rely on in Jaipur (Be aware, there are multiple Rajasthali stores in Jaipur, but only one is authentic – the one near MI Road).
In Udaipur, I really enjoyed visiting the artist shops at Shilpgram and buying directly from them. With that said, don’t stop yourself. If you go to Rajasthan and don’t immerse in its colorful handicrafts and textiles, you made only half the trip!!