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Arts and Craft

Agra's Zardoji

Agra's Zardoji is very unique art of embroidery in three dimension's. The artist first makes free hand sketches of this subjects. Then he embroiders in cotton threads over and over till he gets the required thickness and movements. Finally the artists takes fibre from silk threads, twists then together in the shades required for and embroiders with them the particular piece. In the process he creates original unparallel work of art.

The Chikankari Embroidery of Lucknow

The delicate art of embroidery traditionally practiced in the city of Lucknow and it's environs is known as 'Chikankari'. The name 'chikan' seems to have been derived from the Persian word, either 'Chikan', 'Chikin' or 'Chikeen'. It means a kind of cloth wrought with needle-work. Although it originated as a court craft, today it is a practiced tradition and an important commercial activity. Chikan work has a very light, gossamer - like quality. This makes it very suitable for the seemingly hot climate of the northern plain region. It can be assumed that Chikankari, using sheer fabrics evolved as a logical answer to the problem of keeping cool and also providing adornment and beauty to one's person or in the surroundings. There is a popular legend that a courtesan in the Nawab of Avadh's harem was a master. He was so impressed by the work, that he started a workshop where this style of embroidery would be developed further. The Nawab were the setters of fashion. The other humbler nobles and Zamindars would imitate them in every way. Chikankari thus received great impetus during the Nawabi period. The finely embroidered muslin came to be closely identified with the Nawabi culture and became an intrinsic part of it. The Chikankari tradition gradually filtered down the masses of common people and became a part of their daily life. The source of most design motifs in Chikankari is Mughal. These motifs can also be seen in the ornamentation of Mughal buildings like the Taj Mahal and the monuments of Fatehpur Sikri. There are various stitches used in Chikankari. They vary according to the kind of designs and materials used. The most frequently used stitch is the satin stitch. This is a very delicate and minute stitch. Other stitches like the darning stitch, stem stitch, chain stitch etc. are also used. All these stitches are sometimes used individually but more often in combination of two or more together to fill the whole motif. There are minute variations on these basic stitches and much manipulation in terms of shape and size.


Uttar Pradesh is the largest Brass and Copper making state in India with thousands of establishments. In domestic-ware each of the scores of lotas (small water-pots) is known by the name of its origin, like Etawah, Banaras, Sitapur, etc. The ritual articles are largely in copper like tamrapatra (pot for storing water); panchapatra for holding in all the articles needed for worship; simhasan a seat for the deity; kanchanthal, plate for offering flowers and sweets, and a host of such things. Two methods are used in casting. Para, mould casting for making a single composite item of a simple kind and darza, sand-casting where various parts of an intricate object are separately prepared and then soldered. Moradabad in U.P. has become synonymous with art metalware. It is specially noted for it's colored enameling and intricate engravings in niello. The metalworkers of the city of Moradabad flourished during Mughal rule. They continue to dominate the Indian market for engraved as well as utilitarian brass. A thin coating of lac is given to the article and the pattern traced on it and with a steel pointed pencil and only then engraved. Engravings in nakashi type is done on tinned surface where the indentations are from a stet as per design while the simpler ones are from memory. Thereafter the grooves are filled with Lac of different hues. The decorations are done in golden color against a background made white by tin polishing. Although many of the processes are semi-mechanized, engraving continues to be done by hand. Workers in sheet brass are known as khatera and those who cast the metal are known as bharatias. Plates, cups, bowls, boxes and coffee pots are engraved with a range of floral and geometric patterns and these compositions are often inlaid with brightly colored Lac or vegetable resin. The decorations may include scenes reminiscent of the style of Mughal painted miniatures, but also portray incidents from the Hindu Scriptures.

Zari Work of Varanasi

Banaras besides being a holy place also has the distinction of being a world famous center of hand-made textiles. The ancient traditions of weaving is more preserved in Banaras than anywhere else. The main products are Zari and brocades. Brocades are textiles woven with warp & weft threads of different colors and often of different materials . The brocades are woven in silk with profuse use of metal threads in 'pallars' (endpieces) and the field of the sari. The weavers are mainly Muslim and are known as 'karigars' which means 'artist'. The brocades are woven in workshops known as 'karkhanas'. The zari thread known as 'kalabuttum', consists of finely drawn gold, silver or base metal threads wound round as silk thread. Silk traditionally came from Bengal, Central Asia and Italy but now it comes from either Malda, in Bengal or from Kashmir or Japan. In Banaras the chief varieties of silk used are Jandhuri , Banaks, Mukta , Sandal. These textiles have been woven by teams of weavers and assistants using traditional naksha dran looms. Traditionally the design of the brocade was done on paper first. Then the naksha bandha rendered the design onto cotton threads on a naksha, or ceiling mounted thread device. The nakshabands of Varanasi were so skilled that they tied the designs for the weavers of other brocading centers such as Surat in Gujarat and Chanderi in MP. Now designs used are inspired by folk art of Assam, Bengal, Gujarat, and adaptation of Mughal, Rajasthani and Pahari paintings. Kimkhabs, one of the best known Varanasi brocades, have more Zari work visible than Silk. They were very popular in the Mughal court. They were woven with coarse but durable silk called Mukta. It is heavy enough to take brocading with gold and silver thread. These heavy Kimkhabs were designed for furnishings rather than clothes. Other Zari brocade types were Potthan, and batt-hana or batta. They are of silk showing through Amru brocades have no Zari and are woven entirely in Silk. Tanchoi brocades have multiple warp and supplementary weft threads fabric. Abramamn (flowing water) has a distinct transparency and delicately woven supplementary thread patters printed. Tarbana, has a fine silk warp but a weft of Zari threads that give the brocade a metallic sheen. The deep red, golden zari saris are popular with nearly all Indian brides. The design motifs of these brocades are intricate floral and foliage patterns, kalga and bel, and in sari pallars and dupattas a string of upright leaves called jhalar.

Carpets and Floor Coverings

The largest concentration of carpet weaving in the country is in Uttar Pradesh with 90 percent of the production and 75 percent of the weavers. The main centers are Mirzapur, Bhadohi, Khamaria and about 500 villages in this area. They have some special designs of their own like the Taj Mahal, in natural colour or any tint, Sirdar in plain body and subdued colours with hand embossed or hand carved borders in rose-beige, honey-beige, ivory and soft green. They also make use of the 18th century designs with short clippings of the yarn around the contours of the pattern to give it a sculpturesque look. Mostly pastel shades are used but intermingled with bright colours. The design is carefully prepared on a graph paper with extreme care. Twisted cotton thread is used for the finer weaves and sometimes jute twine for the rougher qualities. The weaver twists the thread into two-warp threads for weaving and ties the knot. The carpets of this region are mostly in medium quality and the knots are around 60 per sq. inch as the sculptured styled carpets do not call for a large number of knots. These carpets are popular export items today. Agra in Uttar Pradesh is one of the old carpet centers of the Mughal days. It produces both the traditional as well as the new designs. The weaving is done under the "calling out" system in which the master weaver follows the design and keeps calling out to the weavers the colors to be used for each knot. Among the oriental design carpets made, the Indo-Ispahan and Indo- Kashan are alike except that the former has the long leaf and the latter the small leaf and flower. In Shahjahapur, both cotton and woolen carpets are made. The designs are of the old Persian style. The overall base color is a clear soft scarlet and the field diapered with golden yellow diamond shapes scattered around, broken by a black line wandering through the field. The border is formed by geometrical yellow floral and dark lineated leaf design rising at right angles to a black center line. Among the traditional designs are kethariwala jal, jainamaz takhdar.


Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh is a veritable treasure house of traditional designs ranging from the classical butis (dots) to the famous ' Tree of Life ', The butis are restful even though sparkling when tinted in solid colors. Mango, 'paisley' as it is known in the West, is made in a vast variety of shapes, and used in bold, medium and even fine designs. The composition is first printed in harmonizing colors and later elaborated with delicate details painted in with a brush. A variety of blossoms merge in this luxuriant tree. It is primarily a decorative piece unrelated to any symbol but has a flavour of growth, prosperity and immorality. The spirited heraldic lions that guard the tree speak of a Hindu tradition. Lucknow's specialty is 'paisley'. Other designs seem to be influenced by the local chikan embroidery patterns. Jehangirabad is distinguished for its bold lines and toned down colors, influenced by the jamdani and jamevar weaves. Tanda (Faizabad) known for its jamdani weave is also the center of a very elaborate printing of graphic quality which gives the fabric an antique look. Two blocks with the same design are used, one perforated and stuffed with cotton to a saturation of color, while the other is plain. These are then printed and reprinted and juxtaposed in the process, developing a dark red color for printing the motifs. The background shade however varies. A very novel design is a batoli chintz, in which against a deep black indigo are placed red diamond-shaped dots of varying sizes that create a startling effect. In Ferozabad, the entire community is involved in making glassware. Earlier only bangles were made, but now all sorts of sophisticated glassware, as well as tasteful tableware is produced. Varanasi also specializes in glass beads. Now with very modern methods and in a much wider range, many of which are exported. It also make a very thin glass out of which little pieces called tikli are cut out. These are worn by women on the forehead as an ornament or for decorating of fabrics, costumes and other things. Saharanpur makes interesting toys full of colored liquid called panchkora. It also makes glass mouth pieces for hukkahs.


Clay craft is probably the earliest of man's creations and marks his coming of age. It is stirred by its challenge. Moulded out of the earth himself he wanted to extend the boundaries of his material existence to give expression to his creative spirit. So he took the earth in his hands and began to fashion a whole new world of infinite shapes of grace and elegance.


Pottery has been called the lyric of handicrafts because of its irresistible and universal appeal. But it is the association of religion with this very humble object that has given it a deeper significance and wider dimension. In Uttar Pradesh, Khurja has evolved a style of its own by raising the pattern with the use of thick slips into a light relief. It also works out its own shades in warm autumnal colours like orange, brown, and a special light red. Floral designs in sky-blue are worked against a white background. A specialty of Khurja is a type of pitcher like a pilgrim's bottle, decorated in relief by a thick slip. Rampur surahis (water pots) are noted for their uniform green-blue glazes with plain surfaces, the base being prepared from red clay. Chunar is also famous and at one time used to glaze its wares with a brown slip, interspersed by a number of other tints. This tinting custom seems to have been forgotten, and it now covers its wares with a dark brown slip or leaves it chalky white. Excellent water containers are made in other parts of Uttar Pradesh like Meerut and Hapur, which are both turned and moulded. They stand out with their striking designs of flowing lines and floral patterns, often capped by weired shaped spouts. Two new centres have come up in Uttar Pradesh. Chinhat in Lucknow, which once made ordinary domestic articles, now specialises in glazed items for modern use, mostly tableware; and Mausalia, which also makes similar glazed ware. Its dark lustrous body distinguishes a very special kind of earthenware peculiar to Nizamabad, Azamgarh district of U.P. This sheen is obtained by dipping it into a solution of clay and vegetable matter, dried, then rubbed with a vegetable oil, and fired. The vegetable matter evidently gives out a dark oxide to get that lustrous effect, on which, scintillating silvery ornamentation is done by incising the pattern on the surface after baking and rubbing in mercury and tin. The use of this type of wares is however limited, for as the clay is fired at a low temperature, it becomes brittle and cannot hold any liquid. Every article here is distinctive. Their other traditional items are the water jugs, superbly shaped and gorgeously coloured. A popular item is the magic pot, which is filled up from an aperture from the bottom. But when the pot is back on its base, the water stays in it and does not run out. It is usually made in fresh olive green and limpid blue. Many new tableware items including tea and dinner sets are now made in style and color schemes. There are also fancy items in ashtrays, flower vases, some highly decorated with figures are also made as paperweights, some looking ferocious and locked in a fierce fight. Then there is the big fish in all its golden scaly splendour sitting majestically.

Wood Work

Naghbel is a zigzag line, which combines the serpentine pattern with three or four petal flowers on each side of the line. Dori is a continuous line of flowers; kutheri phool is a multi-sided figure, sometimes enlarged and the pattern laid in a jail to serve as a ventilator. Circles, the swirl as well as the spiral, are a common motif in low relief. The old tradition of structural carving still continues. The traditional houses look like the old Kangra paintings, square carved boxes with picture windows, richly carved doors and brackets of figures leaning out. In Uttar Pradesh a variety of wood is used like sisam, sal, dudhi and thus woodcarving has several facets. Saharanpur had burgeoned into a big commercial centre and production is comparatively on a large scale, mostly of modern household items. The perforated lacy-work is also done but on small items. Where big pieces are necessary small lattice frames are made, and then fitted together. Nagina is a small centre, doing select work on a small scale but only with ebony. At one time the Nagina craftsmen used to carve on the steel section of the gun. When the Arms Act put this weapon beyond their reach, they turned to ebony probably because of its similarity to the metal. Here the carving is more delicate and meticulous and closer to the tradition. Toilet and trinket boxes are their specialty. Aligarh, Lucknow, Gazipur, Mathura and a number of places show good woodwork.

Stone ware

Gorahari village, in Hamirpur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh with its rich deposits of beautiful soft stone, has nurtured a sizeable stone carving industry, the main centre being Varanasi, where a community called raidaas carries it on. When the quarry owners are also dealers in finished goods, they can exercise double control over the craftsmen. The items are tableware, plates, glasses, bowls, food containers, candle stands etc. The work units in Varanasi have the advantage of power-operating machines. The stone is many coloured with predominance of a lovely red shade. Thus every article is shot through by many shades, which give it an added allure. The articles are simple but exquisitely made. Here marble is also used, especially for making statues. Agra, Uttar Pradesh, is world famous for its marble work flowering under the aura of the Taj Mahal. Models in marble of the Taj and other monuments are popular fancy items - vases, boxes, lamps, plates, bowls, pitchers, and combine delicately moulded shapes, fine carving exquisite decorations set off sometimes by perforated traceries revealing subtle designs. A wide variety of structural pieces are produced, like lattice windows, mirror frames with lace-like fringes, richly carved brackets, canopies with elegant pendants, fretted balusters, large basins with filigree rims to float flowers and many other lovely and useful items. Agra is most famous for inlay work, drawing inspiration from the superb Taj Mahal. One of whose distinguishing characteristics are its incomparable mosaics. Against the milky white surface are in-set numerous coloured stones to form a multitude of mosaics, said to contain 42 varieties. The craftsmen of Agra still continue to reflect in their creation something of this great heritage of theirs. The designs are mostly foliage and floral intertwined with geometrical patterns. The craft is reminiscent of damascening while the flow of lines and the refined taste have the typical Moghul flavour. Once real precious stones were used in these mosaics. Today semi-precious or fine coloured stones are used instead. There is a wide selection available in this mosaic marble such as household articles like artistic jewellery, trinket and powder boxes, trays, as well as tableware such as plates, bowls, glasses; furniture items like settees with latticed backs and arms, chairs, table-tops, panels. Vrindavan near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh has marble as well as alabaster articles are now rare as it has to be imported, so is replaced by soft stone. The intriguing thing about Vrindavan is that it acquires a variety of stones from several of its neighbouring states, like marble from Rajasthan, black stone from Bihar, green from Madhya Pradesh and so on. Some objects are embossed with semi-precious stones or cheaper synthetic gems. This being a famous place of pilgrimage, many mementos of Krishna are made. A dark brown stone with yellow spots and lines called sange-rathek is found in Jhansi and is neighbourhood from which lampshades are made.

Theatre Craft


There are many theorities on how masks came into vogue. However prolific the theorities may be the accepted theory is that they are connected with rituals and the mask itself or the person wearing it mysteriously represents some power or spirit. There are areas where the mask still retains a deep and at times even a complex meaning. There is an old belief that evil spirits can be chased away once they are made visible, which is done through masks. They are also used to present animals and birds in the most vivid and lively form. Masks are used extensively in many forms of traditional theatre. They are made of wood, papier mache, metal sheets, pith and cloth. Mythical personalities are often depicted with the help of masks. For in these type of drama, spectacle forms an essential part and masks serve that purpose, ideally, and celestial being and demons are commonly projected through masks. Masks are, however, used not only to personify invisible spirits of supernatural beings but even ordinary humans to accentuate certain characteristics in the personality. This is noticeable in the usual Ramlila. Here the element to be emphasized is not terror but the power of the cosmos.

Basketry, Mat, weaving and Cane Articles

Basket and other articles are made from bamboo, can and raffia in many places in Uttar Pradesh. Allahabad, Bareilly, and Varanasi have concentration of specialised raffia products both in variety and artistic merit. Raffia or moonaj as it is locally called, is a grass which grows wild on river banks. Cultivators generally grow it on the ridges of their fields as fences to keep away animals. The two outer stalks are dried in the sun and preserved in wood containers for use. This work is hereditary and every girl seems to start on it as soon as she can handle the splits. A very large variety of items are made from raffia like baskets, trays, wall decorations, childrens' furniture being most attractive.

Toys and Dolls

Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh is one of the largest toy producing centres. Lucknow on the other hand specialises in toy sets built around a theme like the people of India showing different faces, costumes, decor; sadhus of India depicting different sects; musicians of India featuring the variety of musical instruments; brides of India displaying the wide range of bridal costumes and ornaments. Though an old craft, the figures are realistically produced, colourfully turned out, and attractively assembled. For festivals, the images associated with each of them, are specially made. It is an ancient industry. The toys are made in wood. The craftsmen mainly make gaily painted animals, snakes, crocodiles, rats, rabbits, lizards, frogs. The rat may be purple, the elephant red, the rabbit yellow, snake red and so on according to the fancy of the craftsman.


Lucknow is famous for ivory work. It does low relief in geometrical or floral designs. Plates, boxes in particular with the lattice-work are most attractive. The chess sets are ornate, each figure carved with great attention, coloured and ornamented. Varanasi has a great tradition in ivory. The craftsmen are hereditary, known as viswakarmas. Hindu and Buddhist figures of deities, dancing poses, animals especially a novel bridge made of animals, decorative plaques influenced probably by the local metal work, are all finely fashioned. Then there are copies of strange foreign figures like the laughing Buddha, as novelties.


Kundan and Enamelling

As gold is too soft, it is mixed with copper or silver or with copper and zinc to give it a little hardness. When jewellerly is manufuctured through a mould it is done through a special process. A model is made in resin, boiled, and when thoroughly set and hardened, is enclosed in a mixture of clay and cowdung. The crucible containing the metal with its mouth sealed is placed on the fire, the metal fuses the crucible containing the metal and its surges up; and as the molten metal enters the resin model, it melts, and takes on the form of the model. This is really an early version of the cire perdue process. When hollow models have to be made, they are prepared in two halves and then joined. Garm mulamma is the process by which articles are overlaid with gold leaf. The part to be gilded is covered with quick silver on which is laid the golden leaf, and heat applied and the leaf is set with a sort of a probe, tipped with agate. A well known and much priced style for stone setting is the kundan. The hollows in which the stones are to be encrusted are filled with gold of high purity. The setting is done with open lacywork which has an unusual mellow charm. Generally uncut stones are set in kundan style. The other sophisticated type of stone setting is enamelling. For this the piece is fixed on a stick of lac and delicate designs of flowers, birds and fishes are etched on it and a wall made to hold the colours, while engravings are made in the grooves to heighten the interplay of the transparent shades, thus enhancing the beauty of the jewel. The surface is fully burnished by agate; then the enamel colours are filled in painstakingly as in painting a miniature. The article is thereafter left in the furnace, kept on a mica plate to prevent direct contact with fire. Colours are applied in the order of their hardness; those requiring more heat, first and those less, later. When set, it is rubbed gently with the file and cleaned with lemon or tamarind. The brilliant ruby red is said to be the most fugitive and hence nicknamed the "dodging" colour, and only an experienced hand can bring out its glamorous lustre. For chaste enamelling. Varanasi is noted for a lovely glowing pink done in a different shade. When it is fired the mingling of the colours produce a wonderful effect. The special pink is however dominant. The colours used are white, black, yellow, pink, green, red, blue, orange, salmon. Gold admits more colours than other metals, and each colour is burnt in separately, though occasionally two or more may be fixed at one firing. The craftsmen who make the designs are called chiteras, the engravers are gharias. In enamel jewellery items the hasli is a continous circle. In others, small pendants in the shape of flower, fish, diamond or star are linked together. Another equally impressive piece is the kada for the wrist (heavy bangle) where contrasting colours are often used, one for the body of th bangle, the other for the carved ends; sometimes even more than two making an attractive colour composition. The chokers are gay and colourful and this one single ornament makes one look highly adorned. Kundan and enamelling is often combined so that a jewllery piece really has two equally beautiful surfaces, enamel at the back and kundan-set gems in front, a feature that often puzzles foreigners.

Lac Ornaments

Outside of metals, lac is used most profusely and widely for turning out attractive ornaments which are coveted also for their alleged power as a kind of charm to be worn. Lac is the resinous substance which a female lac insect produces in a translucent reddish fluid when it is embedded in a kind of cylinder of pipal, bel or bar tree twigs to lay its eggs. The lac is used in the form of sticks in two ways; one as raw material for turning out various articles, largely ornaments like bracelets, beads and little trinkets; the other is for colouring objects. The lac ornaments are used by all classes of people and the varieties seem endless in design and colouring. Lac and glass combine to form a special kind of jewellery by decorating it with spangles or beads. Lac ornaments are made in Lalitpur.


One of the items for which there is tremendous and continued demand is glass bangles. These constitute a world of their own, so vast a dimenstion do they have in infinite varieties, bneyond desription. Each place which makes them has a special style and design to contribute. Ferozabad in Uttar Pradesh, is a glass town, where the entire community only bangles were made, but now all manner of sophisticated glassware, including tasteful tableware, is produced. Varanasi specialists in glass beads, and now with very modern methods a wider range of ever new ones are made, many of which are exported. It also makes a very thin glass out of which little pieces called tikuli are cut out, to be worn by women on the forehead as an ornament or for decorating of fabrics, costumes, etc. saharanpur makes intriguing toys full of coloured liquid called panchkora, as also glass mouth pieces for hukkas.

Folk Painting

Wall Painting

These decorations done only by women are amongst the most expressive of folk-arts. They are known by as chowkpurana in Uttar Pradesh except the Kumaon region. Decorating the floor is still a daily routine, where its observance is accepted as good omen,kthe altar room, the place where the family squats down to eat, round the holy tulsi pot or platform, the hollow which serves as mortar and above all, the entrance to the house, are appropriately decorated, the patterns being changed from day to day. They are not just decorations but also the spontaneous outpourings of religious devotion like a ritual which inspires pleasing shapes, the women singing songs related to each design as they draw it.

Musical Instrument


This consists of a cylindrical tube of uniform bore closed at one end. The mouth hole is pierced at a distance of about of an inch from the closed end. Finger holes of uniform size, varying between seven and nine, are in a straight line with the mouth hole, the latter being slightly bigger than the former. Three fingers of the left and four fingers of the right close the seventh finger holes, and the partial opening and closing of these holes produce the smallest fraction of a note and the most delicate of tonal shades. Flutes are made from a variety of materials : wood, ivory, sandalwood, ebony, red sandalwood, and different metals. But the largest number are made of bamboo because of the excellent quality of tone it gives out.

Percussion Instrument

Tabla And Baya

These two are equally important one - faced drums that are played together. The tabla's head corresponds to mridangam's right head and the baya to the left head. The head is made of either clay, wood or metal. While the tabla has the black paste in the centre, the baya has it at the edge. It is also sometimes provided with tuning blocks. With creative imagination and skill a performer can provide exciting performance on these drums.


Dholak is a simple and universally popular drum found. It is hollwed out of a solid block of wood. It has twine or thick cotton thread for braces, which aid in tuning. The heads are plain. The playing is dne with both the hands.


Nagara is very large hemispherical drum. The shell is metal, coppe, brass or even sheet iron riveted together, the diameter of the head being 2 1/2 to 3 ft. The skin is strained upon hoops of metal and streched by leather thongs passing round the underside of the shell. It is beaten by two curved sticks. In the olden days it stood at the entrance of a city, a palace or at any important gateway. It was struck at fixed times to mak something to make place or the entrance of an important personage or party. There are several centres where musical instruments are made. However, the following are the best known : Lucknow and Rampur, Uttar Pradesh.