Arts and Crafts of Uttar Pradesh
By sheer virtue of its vastness Uttar Pradesh (UP) is a state with a historical past that saw the inter-mingling of different cultures and traditions each one blending it and creating its own unique identity while allowing many others to flourish as well. It was the land of artisans and noblemen, kings and musicians, Nawabs and cuisines where skills were fine-tuned and passed on from generation to generations almost like an act of worship. It is no wonder, therefore, that almost every town or city in Uttar Pradesh is aligned with an art or craft from that is unique to the region.
Notable among UP’s various arts and crafts are the world-renowned artefacts, carpets, clothing and textiles, crafts, embroidery, glassware, leather products, jewellery, metal ware, stonework etc. The prominent cities and towns like Agra, Firozabad, Kanpur, Lucknow and Moradabad have singular identities because of their association with various arts and crafts.
Artefacts (Brass & Metal ware)
Large quantities of brass artefacts like art engravings and metal ware are produced in Moradabad. Intricate engravings of two predominant types, the ‘nakashi’ and the ‘khudai’ and colour enamel work are manufactured here. Traditional figurines in metal ware of the Buddha, Ganesha and Nataraja are commonly seen along with beautiful bowls and trays made of brass.
Banarasi Silk Sarees
The silk sari is a part of every Indian woman’s wardrobe. Banarasi silk sarees are greatly prized possessions for their fine, soft material and rich designs and motifs in silver and gold that highlight the saree. Golden zari fabrics and hand-woven as well as machine finished brocades are popularly available in Banaras (Varanasi), Azamgarh and Mubarakpur. The intricate brocade embroidery with silver and gold is known as ‘kimkab’. The best-known weavers are from the Muslim community as referred to as ‘karigars’ meaning artisan; the brocade workshops are known as ‘karkhanas’.
The carpet industry here dates back to the 15th century when Persian master weavers visited Madhosingh village in Bhadohi district. They subsequently set up carpet looms and trained locals who flourished in the business of carpet making. Bhadohi is one of the highest revenue earners for Uttar Pradesh, exporting carpets to other countries and received the GI Tag in 2010.
Ceramic and Black Pottery
Khurja is world-renowned for its pottery. Artisans and potters make magic turning dull clay into beautiful shapes for bowls, mugs and pots which are then baked and painted with smooth, intricate designs for a ceramic finish. Paintings and glass inlays are also done to embellish ceramic pottery.
Black Pottery is the name given to potter’s clay mixed with mustard oil seed cake to give it the black colour. The clay is shaped into cups, flower pots, jars, jugs, plates, saucers and many more. This is then fired twice in heat and beautiful designs and floral etchings are carved on to it. The silvery finish to black pottery is obtained when the etched surfaces are rubbed with an amalgam of tin and mercury. Nizamabad in Azamgarh district of UP is famous for Black Pottery.
Chikan Work Embroidery
This unique and one-of-a-kind embroidery work can be found only in Lucknow with generations of tailors and embroidering units involved in making cotton and silk textiles with chikan work embroidery. The term ‘chikan’ is believed to have come from ‘chakin’ or ‘chikeen’ of Persian origin which means a piece of cloth filled with embroidery. During the Mughal days when muslin cloth was prevalently in use, these delicate hand work with needle and thread. It began originally as typical white embroidery on white muslin but now the patterns are more intricate and the white embroidery is used on coloured clothing as well.
Glass Work and Bangles
Firozabad in UP is the hub for the glass industry. The richly crafted artefacts in glass like chandeliers, lamps, mirrors, lanterns etc. are of the highest quality and mass export orders keep the glass foundries busy throughout the year. Firozabad is also famous for glass bangles of many colours, shapes and designs which are loved by womenfolk all over the country.
Glass, metal and stone jewellery like the popular ‘jhumka’, an intricately carved and designed earring famous for the hanging pendant, are made in Aligarh in UP. Kohl and Surma, which are cosmetics for the eyes, and renowned for use from the days of the Mughals, are popular here. Aligarh is also famous for its locks which cannot be easily be broken open.
Oriental Scents – Perfumes and Rosewater
The use of scented waters and perfumes was highly prevalent during the reign of the Nawabs and nobility. Attar and Gulabari were made famous; today rose water essence is used for almost all Indian functions and in beauty cosmetics.
Saharanpur in UP is famous for its delicate wood-carvings and handicrafts featuring items that can adorn walls and shelves. Besides, wooden trays and furniture pieces with intricate designs are very famous here. Pilibhit is well known for the manufacture of flutes and wooden sandals. The flutes produced here are often exported to many European and south-east Asian countries.
There is no better example than the historical monuments of Uttar Pradesh in places like Agra, Lucknow, etc. The art of carving marble slabs to produce latticed windows of the finest quality is the high-point of every craftsmen in UP. Marble is also fashioned into products like adornments, balustrades, bowls, divider-screens, furniture, figurines etc. The ‘Pietra Dura’ designs originally of Italy were made famous here by the Mughal emperors who had highly-polished coloured stones of marble, sometimes semi-precious stones also, inlaid into the doors, facades and walls of architectural monuments and structures. This highly intricate form of craftsmanship is still practiced in Agra not only as designs to embellish larger spaces but also smaller ones like wall hangings, jugs, vases etc.
The naturally alluvial soil of Gorakhpur facilitates the making of red terracotta handicrafts and decoration pieces which are immensely popular all over the country. Many Indian homes have terracotta life-like statues of horses, elephants and other animals and birds besides figurines of popular Hindu deities like Ganesh, Shiva (Nataraj) and Buddha. The art of ‘terracotta’, meaning baked earth, has been followed for centuries and it is not only a means of livelihood for the artisans, some of whom have received awards and citations at the national level, but also an art passed on from one generation to the next. The range of terracotta has now expanded to include ornamentation and jewellery which are equally popular.
Besides the rich textiles like chikanwork, brocades and silk, Uttar Pradesh is well-known for its zari work and embroidery threads known as ‘kalabuttum’ that is wound using finely drawn silver, gold or base metal threads into fine rounds. The silk used to makes these originally came from Central Asia but now the sources are mainly Bengal, Kashmir and Japan. The Uttar Pradesh Textile Technology Institute in Kanpur is one of the premier textile institutes offering courses in textile manufacturing and designing.