“The work of a craftsman engaged in his craft is always pure” – amongst the many other things, India’s handicrafts and traditional arts is known for its beauty worldwide. India is a rich country in many ways. It has retained its traditional wisdom on one side and gone ahead with innovation, discovery, search and research and scientific testing on the other side. It is a country where airplanes fly high, astronauts make their way into space and at the same time bullock carts and animal driven carts are also used in their traditional forms. India is a country where an artist is respected as the most knowledgeable scholars in the field of literature or Vedas or metaphysics or philosophy or science. However, owing to technological advancements and other reasons, these handmade sectors are on the verge of extinction.
What are handicrafts?
A handicraft is any of a wide variety of types of work where useful and decorative objects are made completely by hand or by using only simple tools. It is a traditional main sector of craft and applies to a wide range of creative and design activities that are related to making things with one's hands and skill, including work with textiles, mouldable and rigid materials, paper, plant fibers, etc. One of the world's oldest handicraft is dhokra - a sort of metal casting that has been used in India for over 4,000 years and is still used.
Handicraft has its roots in the rural crafts - the material-goods necessities - of ancient civilisations, and many specific crafts have been practiced for centuries, while others are modern inventions or popularisations of crafts which were originally practiced in a limited geographic area. Many handcrafters use natural, even entirely indigenous materials while others may prefer modern, non-traditional materials, and even recycled industrial materials. The individual artisanship of a handcrafted item is the paramount criterion while those made by mass production or machines are not handicraft goods.
Problems faced by the sector
India is a land of arts and crafts, it has always been known for its handicrafts, but unfortunately, it is becoming a thing of the past as people have begun to lose interest in handicrafts. The fact that there are now various new consumer goods which are mass produced and easily available in the markets that people have shifted their demand from handicrafts to these goods. This Indian soil has various forms of handicrafts, right from pottery, jute works to terracotta work and sarees which vary from state to state. Though they are beautiful and are passed on through generations, it is rather sad that we are now in a situation that steps have to be taken to ensure that these don’t die. Somehow over the years, with the advent of technology and fast lives, we have been unable to protect the handicrafts completely.
Some forms of art that need serious attention are:
·Puppetry: Having existed for more than 3000 years in India, this quintessential handicraft of the country is to vanish soon even though some NGOs are trying to save it, but with little positive results.
·Rogan painting: in which paint is made from boiled oil and vegetable dyes using metal blocks. However, only 6 people from India can do this now. These 6 people belong to one family known as the khatris, which is why this form of handicraft has come on the verge of extinction while the family fears that there is no one left to continue the tradition forward.
·Manjusha paintings: art form of Bihar in which the painting weaves the eternal story of love and sacrifice. It represents stories of love in a sequence and maintains an order. Manjusha paintings became immensely popular during the British rule, only to fade out in the middle of the 20th century.
·Handloom: India has a heritage of handloom weaving but this is getting replaced with machine made products and dying a slow death because of lack of support. Handloom industry is one of the largest in India after agriculture in the country.
The advent of technological innovations and industrialisation have resulted in the erasure of traditional arts and crafts in India. Indian handicrafts, along with other traditional modes of art, embody a rich cultural heritage and a legacy of the respective artistic mythos they are associated with. Post-independence, the Indian government, and dedicated NGOs implemented various schemes to preserve the handicraft sector - however, the struggle of artisans with poverty and ignominy had already begun. Resultantly, artisans are shifting to alternative methods of income generation, such as daily wage labour and farming. Art is losing its grip, and protecting the skills and livelihoods of traditional artisans has transformed into a growing challenge.
How can it be saved?
Growth of technology and internet has given us the power of social media and this must be used in ways to protect our tradition. Our gifted Indian craftsmen deserve international exposure and access to the global market, and this can only be achieved with the power of social media and e-commerce sites.
·In order to adapt to changing times and keep the traditional craft alive, it is crucial for artisans to grasp the way in which trade fairs work.
·Artisans need to interact with consumers and communicate the meaning behind their work to them.
·Most handicraft industries are massive arenas for women employment. In their free time, women depend upon these crafts to earn for their families. Luxury brands and textile companies should tap into this opportunity and provide stable jobs to skilled craftswomen in diverse areas.
·A skilful and artistic fusion of old and new designs can strike a balance between the traditional and the avant-garde.
·At both rural and urban levels, workshops should be organised to enhance the skill sets and ambit of knowledge regarding traditional art.
·Collaborations between artisans and urban designers and brands will allow both parties to explore riveting opportunities.
There are many examples like which can be spoken about but the bottom line is they all seem to need protection before they become extinct stories for us to discover after it’s too late. Though governments have begun to take steps to protect these art forms, it is not enough to save them and maybe a little more effort everyone is needed to be able to protect these. Protecting the skills and knowledge of the handicrafts is the most difficult challenge. The problem here is that handicrafts are not as profitable as the other industries which is why not many show enthusiasm in this form.
Moreover, another thing that needs to be noted is that handicrafts employ a lot of labour and with our growing unemployment ratio in the country, it would make sense if we could employ this unemployed labour in the handicraft industry so that the art does not die while ensuring that unemployment reduces.
The planners and policy makers of India have been addressing many problems and concerns of this country. They are also addressing the need of the craftsmen and their craftsmanship but probably the issue is so vast and complicated that the issue has not been touched in complete form. In most of the sates of India there are Crafts Boards looking after the problems of the craftsmen and their crafts. These Boards are also involved in promoting the dying crafts by way of initiating market links, entrepreneurship skills, organizing crafts melas and bazaars, helping the craftsmen to export their products, providing scholarship, etc. But we must not forget one thing that covering the need of lakhs of craftsmen and their crafts is not a simple task. It needs involvement of people from all walks of life: planners, policy makers, administrators, technicians, politicians, technical experts, lovers of arts, craftsmen themselves and last but not the least everybody of the community.