Rural Craft in India

Rural Craft in India

Crafts have an overall aesthetic value because of their close ties to form, pattern, design, and usage concepts. They have become a part of cultural heritage and are ingrained in the customs of the communities. For instance, weaving, making idols, and pottery.

Having a multi-layered, culturally diverse, and rich heritage of craft skills influenced by historical occurrences combined with regional customs and religious beliefs has been a great blessing for India. Deeply ingrained in rural communities, rural craft embodies the best of India's traditional craftsmanship. It includes a broad range of artistic abilities and methods that have been handed down through the generations.  
Rural craft reflects the cultural diversity and rich heritage of the nation through handwoven textiles, intricate pottery, and vibrant folk art. It provides rural artisans with a means of support, preserves long-standing customs, and promotes rural communities' sustainable growth.

Indian Craft industry

The craft sector in India holds a prominent position in international trade due to the high demand for handcrafted goods that possess artistic and cultural value. This contributes significantly to India's export revenues. 

Not only does the craft industry have economic importance, but it also plays a crucial role in preserving traditional skills, knowledge, and craftsmanship that have been passed down through generations. It serves as a means to safeguard cultural heritage and traditions. Moreover, the sector provides livelihood opportunities for numerous artisans, particularly in rural areas, and contributes to the socio-economic development of their communities. One notable aspect of the sector is its commitment to eco-friendly practices. Indian artisans often utilise organic and locally sourced materials, reducing the environmental impact of production. 
Traditional craft techniques, which rely on minimal energy consumption, also promote the use of organic dyes and non-toxic materials. These sustainable practices align with global efforts towards environmental conservation and make the craft sector an environmentally conscious industry.

According to data by IBEF 

With its abundant craft skills and a large number of artisans, India has immense potential to transform the handicraft sector into a multi-billion-dollar industry. In 2019-20, handicraft exports from India amounted to Rs. 25,706.3 crore (US$ 3.5 billion). The following are the export figures for various segments of handicrafts:

- Woodwares: Rs. 3,061 crores (US$ 420.45 million)

- Embroidered & crocheted goods: Rs. 2,334 crores (US$ 320.51 million)

- Miscellaneous handicrafts: Rs. 3,770 crores (US$ 517.68 million)

- Hand Printed textiles and scarves: Rs. 1,128 crores (US$ 154.96 million)

- Imitation jewellery: Rs. 6,850 crores (US$ 94.08 million)

- Art metal wares: Rs. 1,824 crores (US$ 250.52 million)

Key importing countries for Indian handicrafts include the US, the UK, the UAE, Germany, France, various Latin American countries, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia. As the handicraft sector continues to expand and gain momentum, India has the opportunity to reap significant benefits from increased exports and market demand.

Challenges faced by the sector

The craft industry in India faces several challenges that hinder its growth and sustainability. These include declining demand for handmade products due to competition from mass-produced items, limited access to finance, resources, and markets for artisans to enhance their craft practices, and the need to bridge the gap between traditional craftsmanship and contemporary market demands.

The Significance of Rural Craft

In India, rural craft is of utmost importance, both as a means of artistic expression and as an essential component of the socioeconomic life of rural areas. It helps to maintain and advance traditional knowledge and skills, ensuring the survival of centuries-old craft techniques. 
Additionally, rural craft significantly contributes to the economic growth of rural areas by creating employment opportunities, especially for marginalised communities.

Cultural Significance

  • The Indus Valley Civilization, which has revealed evidence of pottery making, weaving, jewellery making, and metalwork that are still used and practised today, is where the earliest evidence of rural crafts in India originates. 

  • A strong network was made possible by the promotion of textile production during the Maurya Period, which included specialised workshops for weaving and dying fabrics.

  • Block printing, zardozi work, and other aspects of the textile industry were also evident during the Mughal era.

  • The silk route, which carried goods and people from the Middle East and Central Asia to China and the Far East, had an impact on craft as well.

  • Mountain tribes like the Gujjars and Bakarwals spend their entire lives traversing the mountains in search of grass for their sheep and goats. Their handiwork is comparable to that of the people of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and the smaller countries of Central Asia in terms of jewellery, blankets, embroidered hats and tunics, saddlebags, and various animal accessories.

  • There are numerous distinct tribes in northeast India, and these tribes are surrounded by dense bamboo forests, the source of some of the most exquisite bamboo weaving in the world. This group shares cultural ties with people from China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and other nations that produce the best mats and baskets.

Religious Significance

  • With reference to the various types of fabrics and their colours mentioned in the Vedas, the Vedic period witnessed the significance of textiles in religious and social custom.

  • There are many communities and large geographic areas where craftwork is practised with a religious component. In South India, the gods' stone statues are covered with silken temple cloth.

  • Tholpavakoothu and Tholu bommalata, two traditional shadow puppet performances, have their roots in South India. Hindu mythology is used as the inspiration for the stories told by these puppets. These types of puppetry eventually become an essential component of cultural festivals.
  • The Bommala Koluvu is displayed using Kondapalli toys, which date back to the Vijaynagar Empire. On a wooden platform, dolls and figurines of mythical beings and gods are arranged.

Traditional Craftsmanship in Rural India:

The heart of the nation's cultural heritage is embodied in the traditional craftsmanship found in rural India. In their respective craft forms, the artisans in rural areas are highly skilled and knowledgeable because these skills have been passed down through the generations. Using traditional tools and materials, they develop techniques and skills specific to their line of work and produce exquisite handmade goods. Objects of beauty and cultural significance are produced by the craftsmanship, which exhibits a harmonious fusion of creativity, accuracy, and cultural symbolism.

Cultural Diversity and Craft Heritage

Through its extensive craft heritage, India's cultural diversity is vividly expressed. The traditions, rituals, and natural resources of each area have influenced its own unique craft forms. These crafts, which range from Bihar's vibrant Madhubani paintings to Lucknow's intricate Chikankari embroidery, show the wide range of artistic traditions that are practised in rural India. 

Popular Forms of Rural Craft

  • Handloom Textiles: Textiles made on handlooms play a significant role in India's rural craft industry.  Rich fabrics like silk, cotton, and wool are woven using traditional handlooms by skilled weavers. India's diverse cultural heritage and the artistic prowess of rural communities are displayed in the distinctive weaving methods, patterns, and motifs used in each region. Handloom textiles not only reflect mastery of craftsmanship, but they also contribute to sustainable practices because they are frequently made with natural fibres and dyes.

  • Pottery and Ceramic Crafts: Rural India has a long tradition of pottery and ceramic crafts. Craftsmen use potter's wheels or hand-building methods to mould clay into lovely vessels, utensils, and decorative items. Intricate moulding, shaping, and firing procedures are used in the craft. There are distinctive pottery types for each region, including Rajasthani blue pottery and West Bengali terracotta. Rural communities' artistic talent and cultural heritage are showcased through pottery in addition to its practical uses.

  • Woodwork and Carving: In rural India, skilled craftspeople carve and work with wood to create elaborate sculptures, furniture, and decorative objects. Sophisticated artisans use traditional tools and techniques to highlight the natural beauty of wood while incorporating intricate designs and motifs. This craft, which frequently has cultural and religious significance as evidenced by the numerous wooden sculptures that adorn homes and temples across the nation, puts rural artisans' artistic abilities, patience, and attention to detail on display.

  • Metalwork and Embellishments: In rural India, the art of metalwork, which includes making brass, silver, and copper objects, is highly revered. Using traditional techniques such as casting, hammering, and embossing, artisans meticulously shape and decorate metals. Utensils, jewellery, and ornamental pieces are among the products made by this craft. The fine metalwork displays technical proficiency and the rural communities' pervasive cultural aesthetics.

  • Folk art and painting: These vibrant rural crafts that honour mythology, storytelling, and cultural heritage are known as folk art and painting, respectively. In various parts of India, rural artisans practise a variety of styles, including Warli, Madhubani, Pattachitra, and Gond art. Intricate patterns and vivid colours are used frequently in these art forms to depict traditional narratives. Folk art acts as a vehicle for cultural expression, visually preserving myths, rituals, and social traditions. 

What factors support the growth of the Craft Sector?

The craft industry in India requires support to thrive and grow. This support is essential to preserve traditional craftsmanship, sustain livelihoods, and promote cultural heritage.Factors that support the growth of the craft sector can be stated as follows:

  • Government Support: The development of the craft sector is greatly aided by government support in the form of policies, programmes, and financial aid.  The resources and support needed to improve their craft practises and successfully access markets are provided by initiatives like skill development programmes, cluster development schemes, and financial aid for artisans.

  • Growing Market Demand: The craft industry is expanding as a result of the growing consumer demand for handcrafted, genuine, and culturally significant goods. The market for craft goods is expanding as consumers become more concerned with sustainability, cultural preservation, and supporting local artisans. The growth of these products is facilitated by the appreciation of the craftsmanship and distinctive cultural value of these goods.

  • Access to Resources: For the craft industry to expand, there must be sufficient access to infrastructure, raw materials, financing, and tools. To invest in their craft, raise the calibre of their output, and grow their businesses, artisans need resources. Therefore, it is clear that the availability of these resources allows craftspeople to improve their abilities and create high-quality finished goods.

  • Skill Enhancement and Training: The development of the craft sector depends on ongoing skill development and training programmes. To keep up with the changing demands of the market, artisans need chances to learn new skills, experiment with cutting-edge designs, and improve their abilities. Collaborations with designers and subject-matter experts, training programmes, and workshops all present beneficial opportunities for innovation and skill growth.

  • Market Connections and Exposure: The expansion of the craft industry depends on access to markets and exposure to a larger customer base. Craftspeople can reach domestic and international markets, interact directly with customers, and boost their sales potential by facilitating market connections, participating in trade shows and exhibitions, and utilising e-commerce platforms and social media.

  • Cultural preservation and documentation: Activities aimed at preserving and recording traditional craft methods, narratives, and practises have helped the craft industry expand. Traditional craft forms and their cultural significance are preserved by recognising and valuing the cultural heritage associated with crafts, funding research and documentation, and providing platforms for knowledge exchange and preservation.

  • Sustainability and ethical behaviour: Adopting sustainable and ethical behaviour in business operations, material sourcing, and production is crucial for the expansion of the craft industry. Consumers want products that have a low environmental impact and are produced in a fair trade environment. Sustainability and ethical practices give artisans and craft organisations a competitive advantage in the market and attract conscious consumers.

What are the Related Government Initiatives?

To encourage and support the expansion of the craft industry, the Indian government has put in place a number of initiatives. A significant government agency in charge of the growth and promotion of handicrafts in India is the Office of Development Commissioner (Handicrafts). To help artisans, improve their skills, provide design intervention, and ease market access, it implements a variety of programmes and schemes.

Some of the related government initiatives include:

  • The National Handicrafts Development Programme (NHDP) aims to give artisans opportunities for skill development, financial support, and infrastructure development. In order to increase the competitiveness of artisans and their goods, it focuses on cluster-based development, market promotion, and capacity building.

  • Market Development Assistance (MDA) Scheme: The MDA scheme provides financial assistance to crafters and craft organisations in exchange for participation in national and international trade fairs, exhibitions, and craft shows. It helps artisans build networks, conduct market research, and promote their products.

  • Comprehensive Handicrafts Cluster Development Scheme (CHCDS): It aims to develop handicraft clusters by providing infrastructure support, skill development programmes, design interventions, and marketing assistance. Its goals include promoting the craft industry's sustainable growth and boosting the productivity and competitiveness of artisans.

  • Export Promotion Programme: The government encourages the export of crafts through a number of programmes, including the Market Access Initiative (MAI) and the Market Development Assistance for Export Promotion (MDA) Programme. These programmes offer craft exporters financial assistance for market expansion initiatives, trade show attendance, buyer-seller gatherings, and export promotion activities.

  • Geographical Indications (GI) Tags: The government promotes the use of Geographical Indications (GI) tags on handcrafted goods. By guaranteeing their authenticity and preventing unauthorised use of the craft's name or origin, GI tags aid in the protection and promotion of regionally specific traditional crafts.

  • Craft Museums and Cultural Hubs: To promote and preserve traditional crafts, the government has set up craft museums and cultural hubs. These organisations give crafters a place to display their wares, run workshops, and instruct visitors about the cultural significance and background of various craft genres.

  • Ambedkar Hastshilp Vikas Yojana: In collaboration with Dastkar Sashaktikaran Yojana, aims to support artisans by addressing their infrastructure, technology, and human resource development needs. It focuses on mobilising artisans into self-help groups and societies to facilitate bulk production and economies in raw material procurement. The program empowers communities through design and technology upgrades, training, design workshops, and commercial market intelligence to meet the preferences of contemporary markets.

  • Mega Cluster Scheme: Under this, infrastructure and production chains in handicraft centres, particularly in remote regions, are scaled up to generate employment and improve the standard of living for artisans. Clusters are identified by the Handicrafts Mega Cluster Mission for upskilling and development.

  • Marketing Support and Services Scheme: Provides financial assistance for domestic marketing events, trade fairs, exhibitions, and craft awareness programs. It also focuses on increasing publicity and promoting brands through media to improve visibility.

  • Research and Development Scheme: Aims at conducting surveys and studies to provide feedback on economic, social, aesthetic, and promotional aspects of crafts and artisans. The findings help in implementing the aforementioned schemes and addressing challenges related to raw materials, technology access, product design, quality control, financial assistance, and legal issues.

These schemes are part of the National Handicraft Development Programme implemented by the Office of the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts. They aim to uplift artisans, enhance their skills, promote their products, and ensure the sustainable growth of the handicraft sector in India.

These government programmes are designed to support artisans financially, physically, and intellectually, make it easier for them to access markets, protect cultural heritage, and encourage the expansion of India's craft industry. They are essential for empowering artisans, improving their quality of life, and ensuring the longevity of traditional crafts.

Way Ahead

Rural craft in India holds immense significance and relevance, and there is an urgent need to preserve and promote it. Rural craft represents the cultural heritage of India, showcasing the traditions and artistic expressions of rural communities. It is a unique reflection of their identity and creativity, preserving centuries-old knowledge and skills passed down through generations. By safeguarding rural craft, we protect the intangible cultural heritage of the country.

Rural craft also plays a vital role in the socio-economic development of rural areas. It provides livelihood opportunities to artisans and rural communities, reducing unemployment and stimulating local economies. The income generated through rural craft supports the well-being of families and contributes to the overall prosperity of rural regions. By preserving and promoting rural craft, we empower artisans and uplift their communities, fostering inclusive growth and sustainable development.

Moreover, rural craft holds environmental significance. Many traditional crafts in rural areas adhere to sustainable practices, utilising locally available materials and employing eco-friendly techniques. This aligns with the principles of environmental sustainability, promoting resource conservation and reducing carbon footprint. By encouraging and preserving rural craft, we contribute to a greener and more environmentally conscious society.

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