Tag Archives: #heritagearts

Chamba Rumal: Paintings in Embroidery

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

When we say Rumal, a small square piece of cloth or handkerchief, an everyday use item, flashes in front of our eyes. Rumal is the Persian word for kerchief…but this Chamba Rumal is not used for wiping hands and faces; it is a pure form of art, culture, and heritage — a perfect display of Himalayan embroidery and crafts traditions. ’The Chamba Rumal gets its name from Chamba, a hill station in Himachal Pradesh, where it has been practiced for centuries and patronized by the kings of Himachal Pradesh. This region is also known for its miniature Pahari (mountain) paintings.

Originating from the Chamba Valley, a flourishing 18th and early 20th-century mountainous region of North India, the Chamba Rumal is a form of hand embroidery.  Due to the theme being similar to those painted on miniature paintings, it has also been called ‘Paintings in Embroidery’.

Chamba Rumal embroidery process (Image provided by Suman Bajpai)
Chamba Rumal embroidery process (Image provided by Suman Bajpai)

The History 

Queens and ladies of royal families use to do Chamba Rumal embroidery in the 17th century for wedding dowries, important gifts, and ceremonial coverings. It was a tradition in the Royal houses that as a gesture of goodwill, the bride and groom’s families would gift it to each other. Gradually local craft people, especially women, began practicing the art and it transitioned outside the palace walls.  

In the 16th century, Bebe Nanki, sister of the Sikh spiritual leader Guru Nanak, reportedly embroidered a Chumba Rumal and that piece was preserved in the state’s Hoshiarpur shrine. Another exquisite piece of this embroidery made its way to Britain in 1883 when Raja Gopal Singh presented a Chamba Rumal embroidered with a scene from the Mahabharata to the British and it was later added to the collection of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

Stich Is Key

Flawless needlework on the Chamba Rumals is derived from the art movement of combining miniature art with embroidery. They are usually made in square or rectangular fabric of different sizes. The base art, characterized by intricate lines, is drawn by miniature art experts. Once the art is complete, the embroidery—usually done by women—is accurately completed on the fabric. A fabric used is mostly naturally dyed silk floss on unbleached muslin or khaddar. National Award winner, Lalita Vakil says, “the picture on both sides of the fabric is almost the same. The drawing is done in outline with fine charcoal or with a fine brush. The embroidery is done using a double satin stitch carried forward and backward alternately in a variety of colors. Simultaneously both sides of the cloth are stitched so that the space on both sides is filled up making the design on both sides look equally effective and similar in content, thus this technique is called dorukha (two-faced).”

Chamba Rumal Stories (Image provided by Suman Bajpai)
Chamba Rumal Stories (Image provided by Suman Bajpai)

The stitch is carried both backward and forward and covers both sides of the cloth, giving it a smooth finish that is flat and gives the impression as if colors filled into a miniature painting. The best part is that the embroidered Rumal can be viewed from both sides and not a single knot is visible, and so it can be used from both sides. The embroidery is primarily done with a double satin stitch. The background is hardly visible but, it is very difficult to identify the right side. 

Over time, this embroidery has been done on coverings, belts, blouses, caps, scarves, pillow covers, household accessories, chaupar (a game of dice) cloths, bedstead, wall hangings, chandwas (ceiling covers), and pankhas (fans). 

Vibrant Colours Makes Lively

Very bright, vibrant, and bold colors of threads are used and the thread is untwisted silk floss, more commonly known as ‘Pat’. The colors which are mainly used are purple, pink, orange, carmine, deep red-brown, lemon and deep yellow, dark green, parrot green, ultramarine, and Persian blue, black and white. Silver wire (tilla) known as badla, is also used on the old Chamba Rumals.

Motifs and Themes

The motifs on these big-size Rumals have traditionally drawn from the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata,  figures of Krishna, his Gopis, scenes from the Bhagavad Puranas, nature, the daily life of Chamba, folk stories of the region, floral designs, etc. In the beginning, Raasmandala (an episode of the dance of Krishna) was the most popular design, followed by Gaddi Gaddan (man and woman of a shepherding tribe that resides in the hills of Himachal Pradesh). You’ll find themes like Kaliya Daman, Rukmini Haran, Ragas, Ashta Nayak, which depict the mood swings of the relationship between a male and a female as part of this art form. This art, where miniature painting meets weaving, opens up a world of stories carried through generations and traditions that speak of nature, faith, and life – thus, it functions as a piece of literature. 

Post-independence, freedom fighter and crafts revivalist, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, revived this art which was on the verge of death due to lack of patronage.


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 12 books on different subjects and translated around 150 books from English to Hindi. 


 

Mosaic Silicon Valley’s ‘Femina’: Find the Divine in India, Cambodia, & China

Making The Mosaic – A column that dips into the disparate, diverse palette of our communities to paint inclusively on the vast canvas of the Bay Area by utilizing Heritage Arts. 

Nine different (sub) cultural histories and traditions from around the world were co-presented by Mosaic Silicon Valley and Guru Shradha, in a program called Femina. It was a call for the world to step out of their cultural silos and experience the vibrancy of the Bay Area, the dynamism of the feminine, and the unifying power of the Arts to build a gender-balanced world.

As the program director, it was fascinating for me to delve into the compositions and choreographies and see the astounding common threads emerge, golden and self-evident. We’ll explore these findings through the first act of the program called Divine | Awaken featuring Indian, Cambodian, and Chinese art forms. Femina’s Divine | Awaken was an ode to the celestial and mythological – It was a call for all of us to find our divine and enlightened selves.

Guru Shradha’s Niharika Mohanty urged us to make room for, submit, and surrender to the divine feminine energies of Durga. Along with her Odissi students, Mohanty beautifully re-incarnated the superb sculptures from Indian temples, the forms manifesting god-like in the blue-light of the stage. One journeyed back in time – and saw the sculptors drawing upon their spiritual energies to carve the goddesses in stone. Art is a journey, one realizes, to an inner destination – familiar or invented, real, unreal, or fantastical. One cannot connect to the outside world without having connected within and art accelerates these connections.

Cambodian Classical Dancer, Charya Burt, emulates Cambodian Gods.

The Goddess was visited again by master choreographer and dancer, Charya Burt in the Cambodian Robam Chun Por or The Wishing Dance. It is typically in an opening ceremony, Devada Srey, that is used to convey blessings to the audience through flower petals. I was fascinated by the obvious Indian influences – Deva in Sanskrit is God, for starters. The Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu; indeed, there exists a version of Ramayana in Cambodia. Contrastingly though, while Indian classical dance uses movement, percussion, and melody to impress the divine upon us on Earth, Cambodian dance is designed to transport us to the heavens; the movements are soft and un-creature-like – Burt seemed to glide, buffeted by centuries of mysticism.

A dancer of the Hai Yan Jackson Compnay recreates art from the Dunhuang Caves.

The Chinese arts reclaimed history, thus solidifying the connection between the Divine and the Human. The Hai Yan Jackson Company presented “Flying Apsaras from Dunhuang.” This dance and its costumes were inspired by the discoveries at Dunhuang Caves which were believed to have been walled up in the 11th century and contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art. Dunhuang was established as a frontier garrison outpost by the Han Dynasty and became an important gateway to the West, a center of commerce along the Silk Road, as well as a meeting place of various people and religions such as Buddhism. My “Indian” radar picked up on the Silk Route and Buddhism. I could feel the palimpsest of time and geography reveal itself in layers. The age-old apsaras appeared before us and the choreography was faithful to the celestial aura.

In Femina, the Mosaic team was able to create a feminine continuum between realms, time, spaces, cultures, and generations, through beautiful art. Happy Women’s History Month to all of you, dear readers! 

The wonderful thing about programming for Mosaic is that it blurs the lines. The narrative may begin as Art imitating Life but then one quickly discovers that it is Life imitating Art. Stories of life – its past, current, and future – are presented on the canvas of culture of, by, for the people in a specific place. Join us and learn more about the Mosaic movement as we catalyze Inclusion and cultivate Belonging in America! 


Priya Das is a writer, dancer, and co-founder of Mosaic Silicon Valley. She is fascinated by the intersections between history, culture, convention, traditions, and time.

Sattriya, and Its Fight for Recognition as a Classical Dance

Why I Dance – A monthly column, in collaboration with IndianRaga, in which we uncover the variety of Indian Classical Dance forms and their lineage. 

This first edition of the Why I Dance Column features Sattriya, an Indian Classical dance form originating in the state of Assam.

Originally developed by the great seer-polymath Shrimanta Shankardev, the art form is based on the Bhagvat and takes its roots in neo-Vaishnavism. As a means of social reform, Shankardev aimed to use Sattriya to meet the goal of cleansing the society of caste and creed hierarchy.  Shankardev also used this artistic medium for the propagation of the philosophy called Eka-Sharan-Naam-Dharma (the religion of taking refuge in the name of the only One). Sattriya dances and dramas that are based on the works of Shankardev and his disciple Madhavdev are performed by groups of dancers and actors in a Prayer Hall called “Naamghar”.  

To Prateesha Suresh, Sattriya dance has meant everything. Trained in both Sattriya and Bharatanatyam, she has been instrumental in the recognition of Sattriya as a classical dance of India, which it was declared as by the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2000.  She notes that: “I learnt Bharatanatyam and took up Sattriya (which I learnt as a child) as it belonged to my state and at that point, we were trying to establish its classical status. I performed a lot with lecture-demonstrations for that cause. Today, although Sattriya has gained its classical status, there is a lot of work yet to be done.”

She continues to inspire Sattriya practitioners around the world through her choreographies and lecture-demonstrations, where she breaks down the artform for those unfamiliar. About Sattriya, Prateesha says, “It has many layers to it like a “Shastra” and I am trying to unfold those layers every day of my life!”   

Sattriya is a lived tradition, having been practised continuously since its inception by men in institutes called Sattras. In the 1970s, Sattriya emerged from the Sattras, against the wishes of many. Dances in the Sattriya repertoire are based on the Sutradhari Dance, among others created by Shankardev, as a part of the drama called Ankiya Nat

Dances in the Sattriya repertoire are divided into three sections; Ramdani, Geetor Naach, and Mela Naach, which refer to the  ‘the beginning’, ‘the middle’, which is the dance accompanied to a song, and ‘the conclusion’. 

Khol
Khol (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The percussion used in Sattriya is called a Khol, and does not follow the same jati system used by many other classical dance forms.  Because of this, the changes in tempo are done gradually and are not calculated (which is how the jati system works).

The basic posture of the art form is the half-sitting “mandala” posture called Ora. In Sattriya, the body moves in undulation and the arms are always bent at the elbows and follow a circular path. The torso is held in samabhanga, dvibhanga and tribhanga positions mostly bending forward or side to side. Acrobatic movements like bending back and touching the ground, and either standing or sitting on the knees are also seen in the art form. The fingers of the palm use all the “hasta karana-s” as mentioned in the Natyashastra.

The costuming in the Purush (male) style is Krishna’s attire. It consists of a yellow coloured dhoti, dark blue coloured upper-garment in the angarakha style called “chapkon”, richly embroidered waist girdle with hanging pearls called “kanchi” either in dark blue or black colour and a black or dark blue embroidered crown over the head. 

The costume of the Prakriti (female) style is a plain white skirt, two panels over each shoulder with patterns which join in a “V” at the back, like the Sutradhari. Dark blue or black coloured blouse with rich embroidery. A long piece of cloth tied at the waist, ends hanging in the front called “tongali”. A richly embroidered waistband with two panels hanging from either side called “aachol”.  

Sutradhari costume has both the elements of ‘Purush’ and ‘Prakriti’, where the dancer wears a white skirt, two panels over the shoulders joined at the back in a ‘v’, a long piece of cloth tied at the waist, the ends hanging in the front called ‘tongali’ and a white head adornment which is in the shape of a “kosha”.  Traditional Assamese jewellery like “unti” (earings), “muthi kharu”, “gaam kharu” (bracelets), “mota moni”, “dugdugi”, “gejera/junbiri” for the neck are worn. Light dancing bells called “junuka” are worn on the feet. 

The Why I Dance Campaign is a collaboration between Maryland based Kuchipudi company Kalanidhi Dance, and IndianRaga. IndianRaga provides a platform for aspiring artists to explore their talent, with opportunities to focus on presentation and performance, high-quality audio and video production for digital channels, and learn how to collaborate with fellow artists.  

Tune in next month to learn more about the Indian Classical Artform of Odissi!


Tarini Kumar is an IndianRaga Bharatanatyam Fellow and Why I Dance team member. She is a disciple of Smt. Divyaa Unni, and currently studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Vinod Krishnan Mixes R&B with Carnatic Music

Minnesota-based artist, Vinod Krishnan, is well known for his creative work and collaborations with IndianRaga, an arts education startup founded at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This Chennai rooted artist’s dream has always been to take Carnatic music to the world and to bring world music together. Krishnan describes his work to be inspiring, refreshing, disruptive, and culturally relevant.

Krishnan collaborated with a wide range of artists from IndianRaga fellow, Mahesh Raghavan to India’s leading musicians Vijay Prakash and Shankar Mahadevan in recent years. He enjoys experimentation in music – from connecting Carnatic elements to a famous pop cover like Shape of You, to composing breezy Tamil melodies such as his original Kaalai Pozhudil

Krishnan’s Recent Release: Kandapadi Kaadhali 

Inspired by Krishnan’s love for A.R Rahman’s melodies like Rehna Tu and Nenje Ezhu, his new release Kandapadi Kaadhali talks to those in love and encourages to cherish love in its raw, non-judgemental form. “I adore the seamless chord progressions and a refreshing choice of sounds in most ARR hits, which inspired the approach to this song,” says Krishnan, who has a strong passion for connecting with the sound, arrangement, and emotion in all his productions.

“This song lets me step out of my comfort zone and play with R&B,” adds Krishnan. “It’s liberating how you can be rooted in timeless cultural values, and yet be globally relevant, and to be all of this needn’t be conflicting. Growing up with ARR’s music, genres no longer seemed mutually exclusive. I believe one needn’t have to pick just one particular genre all the time.”  

 

Krishnan’s Background in Carnatic Music 

Trained in Carnatic music, he spent most of his life as an ardent learner. In 2011, Krishnan started singing for local concerts and Bharatanatyam productions in the US. He also showed a keen eye towards composing, arranging, and producing music – the skills he put to use when he first joined the IndianRaga fellowship in 2016. From then, he made 35 videos both with IndianRaga and independently and garnered a collective viewership of more than 10 million views for his digital music content.

Influence of Chennai Roots on his Music 

“Chennai is like an electron – held back strongly by a nucleus that is culture,” says Krishnan, when asked how he describes his traditional roots. The culture and the traditional embrace of external influences that he was brought up with, help him understand the identity of his origin, that’s a mix of sincerity, modernization, pride, and vibrant culture. 

His culture and background made him realize that one can be rooted in timeless cultural values, and yet be globally relevant and enterprising, and to be all of this needn’t be conflicting. “Another aspect is I’ve always felt Chennai would only be personified to be a culturally-rooted and elegant human being. At some level, that has been the kind of person I’ve sought to be,” says Krishnan. 

Sruthi Dhulipala is a San Francisco-based Communications professional and writer,  She has been priorly published in an International Anthology “Lakdikapul II,” through an Indian poet’s association. She is passionate about music and her goal in life to promote music to the benefit of the people, through music therapy. A passionate dreamer and a self-professed book dragon, she is also a philosophical person who believes that everything happens for a reason in life.