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Punjab Art and Culture

Punjab is the 15th largest state in India. Many races of people and religions made up the cultural heritage of the Punjab. The genius of Punjabis finds expression in love stories, lusty dancing, and humour. Punjab is very rich in terms of dance. Most popular Punjabi dances are:

Bhangra, Giddha, Jhumar, Luddi, Dankara Julli, Sammi, Dhamal, Jaago, Kikli and Gatka. These days, many non-Punjabis are also getting into Punjab's folk dances, as you occasionally see a European or Chinese in various Bhangra competitions. These non-Punjabis have simply made Punjabi dance a part of their own culture as well.

People of Punjab entertain themselves in a variety of ways. The mirasis (professional wits), naqalias (mummers), and domanis (female singer-actresses) are professional performers belonging to the lower classes. They exploit all the tricks of exaggeration, absurdity, malapropism, comic gags, and lewd references. One of the popular organized forms of work and entertainment for young girls is Tirinjen - where the girls spin and sing. Tirinjen is a kind of social club, which can be organized in any home, where place for spinning wheels and the girls is available for a day/night. The girls would sing and dance, would express their sorrow and happiness, pangs of separation and joy of meeting.

The spinning wheel plays a significant role in the life of the women, as a companion, counselor in distress, friend and guide. The games in Punjab are suitable for children, youth, adult and old people alike. Many of these games have been lost in the evolution of history, and the ones that remain are losing for perhaps these are not in fashion except a few which still survive. These include dangals (wrestling bouts), folk songs and dances, kite flying, cock fights, etc. Kites, a favourite pastime of the Punjabis, is known by its various names - Guddi, Gudda, Mashli, koop, patang. Various festivals such as Basant Panchami (spring festival) provided special occasions for flying kites. Artistically designed kites, likes of which in my opinion are not made anywhere else in India, are available in many sizes.

In some Pahari miniatures, one can get a glimpse of typically Punjabi kites. Art is described as a creation or expression of something beautiful especially in a visual form and Arts and Crafts as a phrase means decorative designs and handicrafts. Punjab is famous for its Crafts work. The onslaught of high technology is putting a premium on the arts and crafts in the modern era.Various crafts famous in Punjab are:

Needle work :-

Needle work of Punjab is unique, it has beautiful names because of its associations with beautiful aspects of life and the beautiful designs which the dextrous fingers of Punjab's proverbially beautiful women create have such a wealth of forms and motifs that they defy enumeration. Phulkari meaning Flower work, is a spectacular style of embroidery peculiar to punjab and an essential part of everyday life. Almost every ceremony in which women participate is given a touch of additional colour and richness by the use of Phulkari on account of its being considered auspicious and a sign of 'Suhag'. Some of these are called Baghs, literally a garden, Phulkaris, literally flower work, rummals, scarfs. The patterns of needle work done on the bed spreads, chunnis, dupattas (these are head covers) and shirts and Salvars, are still different.

Needle work on phulkaris is done on a deep coloured cotton cloth with striking silk threads. The threads is pierced upwards from underneath the cloth into free-hand motifs, while in the Baghs and Rummals such cloth is worked on the top side only. This type of embroidery is so excellently done that it is hard to distinguish between the left and right or upward and downward side. It has the look of a carpet. The patterns are not restricted or controlled, but bold, free and highly imaginative. The designs and motifs are an expression of the embroiderer's thought and aspirations. These women can stitch a railway train, motorcar, lorry or even a rath (chariot) out of sheer curiosity. Birds, domestic and wild animals in different sizes and from different angels are common. In the whole composition, one often comes across several ornaments such as hansali, tika, karda, ponchi, singhar-patti and guluband. Another peculiarity of this embroidery is that no two Phulkaris are alike. These were traditionally used for wear but now are exported as wall hangings and sewn as jackets etc.

Punjabi Juttis :-

The shoes made in different parts of Punjab out of self lured leather have different traditions. Light shoes were considered the best and to explain this aspect the cobblers used to say that even the sparrows can fly with them. Earlier shoes which have come to be known as Punjabi Juttis throughout the world were embroidered with gold and silver wires all over in different patterns covering every parts of the pair so that it looked as if it was made of solid gold and silver. Now even when golden and silver threads are used to embroider these shoes, the quality of these world famous shoes is still maintained.

Basketery :-

The craft of basketry is widely practised all over Punjab. After shaving, thin straws of this grass, are woven into beautiful carpets, curtains etc. Among these products the hand fan is very popular and fascinating on account of its curled shape. These fans are popularly known as Peshawari Pakkhe. The ones smaller in size are very fine and delicate. These are called Kundaldar Pakkhi on account of their curled ends. Another useful household contrivance called Chhaj in Punjabi was manufactured out of sarcanda which is used for separating edible stuff from .the grain. The basketware was intended to fulfil only the daily needs of the people. In most cases, no effort was made to give them a decorative or artistic touch.

Wood Work :-

The woodwork of Punjab has been traditionally famous. Artistic beds with comfortable, skillfully made back rests fitted with mirrors, low seats called Peeras, Peerian were made by carpenters in almost every village. Furniture designed in Punjab and boxes, toys and decorative pieces made out of lacquer finish to wood crafts, in adorning it with engraving wood, inlaying ivory (now white plastic only) the workmen of Punjab have been renowned. Woodcarving in Punjab is practised in Batala, Amritsar and Hoshiarpur.

Clay Toys and Pottery :-

The indigenous traditional clay toys had a decisive psychological effect upon children. They also reflect their sensibilities. The inherent sensibility in the young mind could be properly poked, guided and fostered from early childhood through the judicious choice of playthings of taste and beauty. Toys are made of wood, clay, paper and cloth. Deeva or Clay lamps are made expressly on the occasion of Diwali.

In the villages, the potter obtains his raw material, i.e. clay, free of cost from a nearby pond (Chhappar). In addition to the toys he makes clay pottery, Surahi and Ghara (vessels for storing water), dishes, jars, etc., which he sells at very little profit. The traditional forms have good proportions that only objects whose shapes are dictated exclusively by function. Constant repetition with slight variations often brings refinements of proportion to a classic purity. Each shape fulfils its function admirably. The tall narrow-necked jar (Martaban) and similar specimens of pottery have disappeared from post-partition Punjab. Some specimens of clay pottery can still be seen on certain festivals. They are decorated with different colours, which reinforce and strengthen their form. In pre-partition Punjab, a light wooden toy called Reloo Pehalwan used to be made. It represented an acrobat balancing himself pre-cariously on a small stool. Slightly different from this was another toy also called Reloo; made of paper. It balances itself on a small lump of clay. This specimen of Reloo is the restless type and cannot stand still. It keeps moving from right to left and vice versa, much to the mirth and delight of small children.

The popularity of the clay toys is diminishing day by day but still there are to be seen sporadic instances of miniature dolls in clay, animals and kitchen utensils, roughly coloured with kharia mitti and decorated with motifs in bright colours. A wide variety of traditional wooden toys are still being produced in Hoshiarpur. They are lacquer painted in bright colour-yellow, red, green etc. These include dolls, household articles, train, wheel birds, baby walkers (gadda) etc. About 30 years ago, small girls used to love to possess these toys. Traditional toys generally serve a two-fold purpose. They can be used as playthings by the children and as decoration pieces by the adults. Toys of cloth stuffed with cotton are still made by the women in the villages. Wood and clay tops (lattoo) are still quite popular in some areas of Punjab such as Amritsar. Edible toys in sugar have a great variety of shapes. In village fairs one comes across toys with a scientific touch though naively native in character. Dolls, birds and animals are some of the common subjects. The world of these colourful and joyful toys has gradually receded into the background, yielding place to cheap plastic products flooding our markets. The folk objects made by professional potters or toy-makers have no market; so they have had to give up their occupation. The same is true of the artisan community who used to make toys of straw.

Mudwall Painting :-

The tradition of painting on the mudwalls dates back to very ancient times when the earliest man sought protection in the magical drawing which was thought to prevent the aura of evil spirits from coming into the house. Certain symbols were also used to express the wish of the creators for boons of plenty, progeny and well-being. The art of mudwall painting is known as Chowk-Poorana in the Punjab. It is necessary to make it clear that despite its name Chowk-Poorana, the Punjabi rustic women do not draw decorative designs at the threshold of their homes, but on the mud-walls. The mudwalls of rural houses in the Punjab are painted on festive occasions like the "Navaratra poorna" before and on Dussehra day, Karva-Chauth (the day on which fast is observed by Punjabi and U.P. women for the well-being of their husbands), Hoi or Ahoi, and Diwali. All these festivals are celebrated in September, October and November-the months known as the festive season. If one finds oneself in a Punjab village during this season, one is spell-bound by attractive and intricately composed patterns and designs painted on the mudwalls which are intended to invoke the blessings of and welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and plenty. These drawings and paintings are done by the peasant women. Some of these paintings deserve to rank among genuine creative art. The art of mudwall painting does not require special training. Young girls just pick it up from their mothers or elderly women. In fact, as a leisure hour occupation, it is essentially a rural and feminine art. This typical art depends entirely on individual capacity and skill. Painting the mudwalls was the only means for them to add colour and richness to their poor, humble and lowly surroundings. The formal simplicity and beauty of these patterns revealing the inherent sense of design on the part of these peasants would make any artist envious. The symbolic designs and motifs drawn on the mudwalls are born of unconscious and ancient knowledge, potent with power and energy, and used by the woman as an auspicious mark for worship, decoration, beautification and protection of hearth and home. They have also been making paper mache utensils for storing house hold necessities in colourful designs for a long time past, out of a paste made by mixing paper and various kinds of earth.

Metal Work :-

Metalwork is the most important of Punjab's arts and crafts. The common use of metal objects in daily life has necessitated the evolving of various products and techniques. The metal-workers of Amritsar are known for their skill in various forms of casting, soldering, methods of decoration such as repousse, pierced work, chasing, engraving, etc. Metal pots and other utensils are used by the housewife in her kitchen. Metal objects are necessary for religious rituals in the homes as well as in the temples. Among these objects are included temple lamps and trumpets (Narasinga). Decorative objects are for those who can afford them.

The most remarkable are engraved metal doors and the Kalashas of the temples, the Chhattra and the three-dimensional life-size metal sculptures of lion, Durga's charger, and Nandi, Shiva's mount outside their respective temples. In the 19th century, figurative panels engraved in low relief were very common in the Hindu temples and Sikh gurudwaras. Metal craftsmen engaged in repousse work were called Chitera in Amritsar. It may be noted here that the word 'Chitera' means a painter; the term is commonly used in this sense in the erstwhile Hill states of the Punjab Himalaya, now incorporated in Himachal Pradesh.

Hand printing :-

In Punjab, there was a particular community of textile workers called "Chhimba". They used to print khaddar cloth with hand blocks. In most cases, the white cloth was supplied by the customer. It was first dyed and then printed by the Chhimbas. The printed designs were mainly floral and geometrical; sometimes bird and animal motifs were also used.

The dyes were obtained from vegetables, plants and stones; -the colours were made fast by adding some chemicals and herbs and boiling for several hours. The method of obtaining colours for the dyes etc. was a jealously guarded secret of the Chhimba community and not let out easily.

It is still being done in some areas of Punjab but traditional designs are no longer in vogue. The traditional dyes and colours have been relinquished in favour of aniline dyes which are cheaper and do not involve so much time and labour. The term palampore originally derived from Hindustani word "palang-posh" meaning bed cover is now generally applied indiscriminately to all varieties of Indian prints or hand printed cottons, including canopies over the images of Hindu gods, prayer cloths or mats, handkerchiefs and cloth for daily wear.-Indian cotton manufactures and printed cotton have been well known since time immemorial, though the original home of printing industry seems to have been Persia.

In Punjab, the colours used in this process are generally light or in pastel shades. Dark colours which are very common in Rajasthan are not used. Traditional patterns have undergone considerable change with the passage of time. This change is noticeable in rural areas also. The traditional motifs are not very similar to those of neighbouring provinces. Fortunately the lock motifs have an individuality of their own. Particularly, Mor (peacock) and Amb (mango) motifs have their own charm; the Jal (net or big bush) motif was very popular with the women from all communities. Rumal purposely made for the Sikhs was used for covering their holy book 'Granth-Sehib'. This was generally printed with hand blocks.