RUGS & CARPETS
Carpets and blankets are almost synonymous with Himachali furnishing. Their brilliant colours and traditional motifs can make you forget your Persian back home! You'll be spellbound by their appearance - Garudas (Vishnu's mount, the eagle) perched on flowering trees, dragons, swastikas (auspicious Hindu/Buddhist emblem), flutes (symbolizing happiness) and lotus blooms (signifying purity).
In the higher reaches of the state, hillfolk rear sheep and goats and weave the wool and hair into traditional blankets, rugs and namdas (heavy rugs). Namdas are made with beaten wool. In fact men spinning wool by hand as they watch their flocks is a common sight in Himachal.
Fleecy soft blankets called gudmas are also very popular. They are made from the wool of the Giangi sheep. They come in natural wool colours and are finished with a red or black edging. You'll have a lot of furnishings to choose from: thobis (floor coverings), karcha (mattresses), which are made from goat hair, pattoo cloth (like shawls), carpets and yarn made from soft wool.
Chunky bead-and-metal jewellery of the hill people is usually in great demand. As with most tribal communities, the traditional attire includes ornaments for almost all parts of the body. Markets abound with stalls selling amulets, pendants, necklaces, daggers and rings - you'll probably want to take everything home!
Fine jewellery is crafted out of silver and gold. The jewellers of the once-Rajput kingdoms of Kangra, Chamba, Mandi and Kullu were famous for their enamelling skills. They mainly worked with silver and were partial to deep blue and green enamelling. They created exquisite pieces like elliptical anklets, solid iron-headed bangles, hair ornaments, peepal-leaf-shaped forehead ornaments, necklaces known as chandanhaars (a bunch of long silver chains linked by engraved or enamelled silver plaques) and pendants with motifs of the mother goddess. An old Kangra pattern for silver anklets is a series of birds, archaic in design, connected by silver links. Unfortunately most of this is old jewellery and is no longer made. You could check it out in museums like the Kangra Art Museum in Dharamsala, the State Museum in Shimla and the Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba.
Of the jewellery that's made now, coin necklaces are extremely popular with pahari women. So much so that every pahari woman dreams of owning one. Chokers called kach (made of silver beads and triangular plaques) and the collar-like hansali are also common. Heavy anklets, bangles and silver bracelets (kare) - solid or filled with shellac - with clasps in the shape of crocodile or lions heads are worn by all women. In the Tibetan influenced Lahaul-Spiti, ornaments are studded with semi precious stones like coral, turquoise, amber and mother-of-pearl.
In a land where religion rules daily life, worship is bound to be an elaborate process. Temples are replete with pretty objects needed for worship, all fine specimens of metalwork. The metals used mainly are brass, copper, iron, tin and bell metal. Apart from the exquisite statuettes enshrined, there are several metal objects like bells with artistically designed handles, lamps, incense burners, low settees of silver or brass, vessels and ornate musical instruments in these temples. In fact, the common lota (a small globular pot for storing water) itself is available in so many different forms all over the state that it's amazing. Similar things may be used as everyday items at home. Some of the more affluent homes possess beautifully fashioned teapots, smoking pipes, carved panels, doorknobs and various other artefacts. Metal workers haven't lost their magic touch; this centuries old craft is still one of the most vital traditions of the state.
Another metalcraft unique to Himachal is the mohra. Mohras or metal plaques representing a deity are common in Kullu and Chamba. Most of them represent Shiva, but masks of the mother goddess Devi and other deities are not uncommon. These plaques are usually made of bronze, brass or silver and consecrated by a pujari (priest) before being installed in a temple. The head is sculpted in bold relief, while the neck and shoulders are more summarily treated. Each village has its own mohra. Mohras have been made in Himachal for at least 1,400 years now. They are taken out of the temples on a palanquin in processions during religious festivals like the grand Kullu Dussehra.
Forests all over the state abound in pine and deodar, besides walnut, horse chestnut and wild black mulberry. Wood has been used to great effect in temples and lavishly built palaces. The steep-roofed pine temples of northern HP often bear relief figures carved on their outer walls. Intricately carved seats, doors, windows and panels speak volumes of the craftspersons' skill. The Bhimakali Temple of Sarahan is a perfect product of the kind.
Woodcarving is still a living tradition in HP. Pahari artisans use wood to make intricate jalis, trelliswork or perforated reliefs that filter light, transforming the interiors of a building with the play of light and shade and balancing mass with delicacy. The carpenters of both villages and towns make beautiful objects of everyday use like vedis (low benches), bedlegs, cradles, bedsteads, low settees, boxes, ladles, churners, rolling pins, wooden utensils, charkhas (spinning wheels) and hukka nari (the pipe and body of the smoking pipe). You might like to take back something from their range of fruit bowls, beermugs, wooden jewellery, decorative boxes and carved images. Bamboo and willow bark is also stripped and fashioned into sturdy trays and baskets.
Thanks to the fair variety of stone found in this hilly region, stone carving has been explored to the fullest in Himachal. Numerous shikhara (spired) stone temples dot the landscape. The Lakshminarayan temples of Chamba and the temples of Baijnath and Masrur in the Kangra Valley are some splendid specimens of the kind. Beautifully carved memorial stone slabs called panihars are also found in several places, especially near temples and fountains.
Stone carvers in HP are hammering away at their blocks even today, producing several artefacts of domestic use widely available in the markets. These include traditional stoves (angithi), circular pots for storing (kundi), pestle and mortar (dauri danda), mill stones (chakki) and other things. The centres of sculpting in Himachal are concentrated mainly in Mandi, Chamba, Kinnaur and the Shimla Hills.
GARMENTS & ACCESSORIES
Himachalis simply love to dress up. Their everyday wear is so colourful that you'd think that they were dressed up for a festive occasion. The Gujjars (a semi-nomadic tribe) wear kurtas (long shirts) which are delicately embroidered with circular and linear patterns. The people of Chamba are majorly fond of all sorts of accessories, which include bright rumals (scarves) worn by the women, bangles and rings made of horsehair and brightly patterned grass shoes.
Lahaul has its own traditional footwear. People wear the most interesting socks - we bet you've never seen anything like them before. These handknit woollen socks are brilliantly patterned in bright and cheerful colours. Luckily for the rest of the world, they are sold in abundance in the bazaars of Himachal, along with gloves, mufflers and caps. The typical Kullu topi (cap), in shades of grey or brown and flat on the top, is rather striking too. A band of colourful woven fabric brightens the front and the topi looks rather neat set at a rakish angle.
LEATHER CRAFT & EMBROIDERED RUMALS
Chamba district is famous for its leather-craft and 'embroidered Rumals'. The slippers made in Chamba are exceptionally comfortable and light. They are made of leather and are ideal for walking or hiking in the mountains. One can get them as plain or decorated in embroidered Lantana flowers, leaves and designs. New and different kinds of designs are used today to make decorative leather shoes, slippers, socks, belts, etc.
The other craft of Chamba is its unique embroidery style. The Chamba 'Rumal' or handkerchief about 2 to 6 feet in length, is an important part of a Chamba bride's trousseau. This handkerchief is also known as 'Kashida'. The embroidery is same on both sides and the threads used are silken and colorful. The cloth used, can be cotton or silk and is usually white or cream in color. The designs are made in running stitches with the space filled in so that the picture appears on both sides of the handkerchief. The designs retain an almost painting kind of an appearance and are an ideal gift from the region.
Embroidery seems to be the favourite pastime of pahari women, their nimble fingers busy with needle and thread on lazy afternoons. Houses in HP are replete with beautiful pieces like rumals (scarves), coverlets, handfans, caps, cholis (bodices), gaumukhi (prayer gloves) and such things. The motifs are either from the traditional stock of miniature painting, the landscape or are innovations of the women themselves. This urge to create and live with beautiful pieces is very much a part of pahari culture. The red and orange richly embroidered silk rumals (scarves) of Chamba are simply beautiful. The women of Chamba have traditionally made them for a 1000 years now. These rumals are actually small shawls meant to be used as head coverings. They often depict scenes from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Raas-lila of Radha and Krishna. The embroidery is done in silk yarn on tussar cloth or fine cotton. The stitches are so fine that there is no evidence of knots or loose threads. As such both sides of the rumal are alike. The ground is usually white or cream, but the embroidery threads (usually red and orange) are in striking contrast. A finely embroidered rumal can take something like even a month to complete.