Arty and Crafty in Udaipur

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While Rajasthan is known as a patron of arts, Udaipur is quietly carrying forward a wonderful legacy of the same through myriad manifestation. Interestingly these crafts have all been practiced since several years and are usually handed down from one generation to another which adds a quintessential old world charm.

The City Palace in Udaipur on the occasion of the 4th World Living Heritage is a sensory overload of colours courtesy the numerous arts and crafts on display in its sprawling central courtyard. It is here that I discover the many crafts that originate here when I speak to the numerous artisans who are here to display and demonstrate their craft.

Miniature Paintings

These are traditional miniature paintings that usually depict Rajput and Mughal history and stories from the epics. The intricate nature of these paintings apart from the vivid colours and attention to detail makes these painting one of its kind.  The best part of that these paintings though small have a precise form for each part of the design from the leaves to the costumes to the water and more. Naturally then these are art pieces that are created with precision and by artists who are well trained and gifted in the craft. Usually natural coloured paints are used and thin squirrel hair brushes are used to apply the paint.

Wooden Toys of Udaipur
Wooden Toys of Udaipur

Wooden Toys

Udaipur is also known for its wooden toys where craftsmen use local wood doodhia that has a soft texture that is amenable to be chiseled and shaped. The toys are lacquered and polished after they are made to increase their shelf life. Apart from animal figurines, you will also find images of small toys, God figurines and the like. One of the most well-known wooden toys includes the wooden imitation fruits that mimic the real ones. The skill of making these toys is usually passed on from one generation to the other and hence is akin to a heirloom for the artists.

Danka Metal Embroidery

Danka is a style of metal embroidery that affixes small metal squares about 1.5 cm to a fabric using gold or silver wire typically in sun, moon or paisley designs. A craft that dates back to 400 years, this is practiced extensively by the Bohra community of Udaipur. In earlier days the Danka was crafted in pure gold but today gold-plated silver Dankas are used on the fabric. The thin silver sheets are washed, polished with fine sand and hammered to make tiny squares that are placed in different forms and sewed on to the fabric with a sharp needle. Usually the underlying fabric is silk and these are used for weddings.

Carved Soft Stone

Rajasthan’s topography has several hard rocks including granite, marble and slate and stone carving has been an activity practiced from the old times. In fact you can see extensive jali or latticework carvings in several palatial buildings. Artisans today carve marble images of deities, animal figurines including elephants – a common motif. The quarries at Makrana are known for their marble and artisans expertly carve various artefacts from them. Once done, sandpaper is rubbed on the stone to give it a distinctive shine.

Puppets of Udaipur
Puppets of Udaipur

Puppets

Rajasthan’s string puppetry is almost an instant connect when one thinks of the craft. Today however, whiel puppetry has taken a backseat, puppets continue to be available through the state. Udaipur is no exception and the vibrant puppets are usually sold as a pair – a male and female and are available in varying sizes. There are also single puppets of a man on a horse which is slightly more ornate. Called Kaathputli (kaath means wood and ‘putli’ means puppet) these are hand carved using wood and brightly coloured cloth. Strings are attached to the head that allow the puppets to move in different directions.

Gold and Silver leaf printing

Gold and Silver leaf printing is a process by which flat sheets or dust of gold and silver are applied to fabric resulting in a surface embellishment. Naturally these fabrics are quite expensive and reserved to be used on special occasions. The real yellow gold leaf is 91.7% pure gold while the silver colored white gold has 50% pure gold. The process of layering gold leaf is called gold leafing or gilding and various designs are made on the fabric to give it a classy look. Since this craft is expensive, it is usually made only on prior orders. The craft is seen both in dupattas and sarees.

This story first appeared in Airports Magazine’s September 2019 issue here:

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