Dying Art Forms from all over India

Art often tends to take a backseat when it comes to sustaining a livelihood. People gravitate towards more “practical” options and jobs that guarantee a regular income. This trend has endangered the knowledge of many local arts of the country. Here are four such dying arts of India from different regions of the country:

  1. Papier-mâché from Kashmir

This craft was brought from Persia in the 14th century. Based primarily on richly decorated, colourful trinkets made of paper pulp; this art is practiced in homes and workshops of Srinagar. It is also known as kar-i-munaqqash for the smooth-finished product of polished papier-mâché, and the artisans are called sakhta makers. The products are made of paper pulp, cloth, straw of rice plant, and copper sulfate. The pulp is dried and powdered, and then mixed with rice water to facilitate coagulation. The mixture is molded in wooden or brass molds, detached with a saw upon drying and is rejoined with dense glue. The joints are filled with a wooden tool called kathwa. The product is polished with gemstones and covered with layers of gold and silver foils combined with a paste of chalk and glue mixture. This process is repeated several times to achieve earthen colours. It is finally decorated with floral designs using distemper colours. The brushes used for the painting are made of goat, cat, or donkey hair. Owing to the rise of machine carving and advancement in manufacturing technologies, handmade products seem to be expensive, and their demand is reducing. To keep the craft from dying, it is protected under the GI tag and the government of Jammu and Kashmir has integrated it into the school curriculum as well.


  1. Ganjifa Cards from Nashik – 

Ganjifa arrived in India around 500 years ago with the Mughals. Its origin traces back to the late 14th century around present-day Syria and Egypt. The craft is still practiced in small communities of Odisha, Andhra, Mysore, and Sawantwadi – Nashik. The Mughal version of Ganjifa was a 96-card game with eight suits, each depicting a function of the royal court, while the Hindu Dashavatara form is played with 120 circular cards, and is the only form still surviving. These cards are traditionally made of leather, pine leaves, and papier-mâché. Earlier extracted from minerals and plants; now synthetic watercolors are used to paint the 64-68 mm wide cards. They are then sundried for about 15-20 minutes. Some cards are embossed with pasted gold leaf for the ornaments and borders and then coated with varnish. The Mughal cards were coated with tamarind paste, cooked with mud and Arabic gum, dried and rubbed with stone for a smooth finish. Some cards were even made with cloth and a layer of stucco (chalk or zinc oxide mixed with gum). By the 1970s there was just one Ganjifa artist left in Sawantwadi who made one set a year. Sawantwadi’s royal family has trained traditional artists in efforts to keep the art alive, and now there are 5 artists working in the palace.


  1. Rogan Art from Kutch – 

This craft came to India from Persia about 400 years ago. It is an art of cloth printing done with a special kind of oil paint. The name of the art comes from the Farsi word ‘Rogan’ meaning varnish or oil. The paint is made using castor oil as the base, which is boiled for two days until it achieves honey-like consistency. This is quite a dangerous process since a large amount of oil could catch fire. Only a few artisans have mastered this process. The oil is finally combined with pigment to make the paint. There are no definite proportions and measurements for the composition of the paint. It is a craft passed down from generation to generation in the Muslim Khatri clan, and each process is mastered only by experience and practice. The prints are created by rubbing and swirling the paint on the palm of the hand, which generates heat to thin out the paint to make the signature single-thread designs. Once popular in India for ceremonial clothing, the craft declined since the rise of mass-produced and relatively cheaper industrial textile in the 1980s. Abdul Gaffur Khatri’s family of 10 is now the only group of artisans practicing this craft. Since 2010, they have trained 300 women in this art in an effort to preserve it. The pandemic, however, incurred losses for the family since there were no tourists to buy their products.



  1. Handmade Veena from Thanjavur

Originally named after the Goddess Saraswati – who can be seen holding the instrument, the Veena used now – called the Raghunath Veena, was named after King Raghunath Nayak of the Nayak Dynasty of Thanjavur. Artisans on the South Main Street of Thanjavur famously make this instrument by hand. Each Veena takes about 2 months to complete. It is made from the wood of a mature jackfruit tree. Pieces of the wood are joined together to make the bowl shape, which is then sculpted to perfection into a thin shell. A wooden arm is attached to the bowl, which is covered with a thin piece of carved wood. The sculptor finally smoothens out the instrument with sandpaper and decorates the bulb with intricate designs. A second smaller bulb is fixed on the upper end of the arm, which is mostly made of papier-mâché or fiber these days. Only 15 families make these instruments now. Due to the expansion of the city, there is a growing scarcity of the required trees, making it difficult and costlier for the artisans to procure the wood. They also get a very small share of the final product sold by the retailers.

These crafts need our urgent attention and investment. Art is a major part of our culture and we need to preserve the diverse and rich culture we possess.

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