hole and corner rajasthan

In Search of Artisans

Hole and corner rajasthan map


At the heart of Indian life is the celebration of the act of living itself – and in that celebration is kindled the ember of India’s arts and crafts traditions. Where better to search for the well-preserved handicraft traditions than in the sea of sand that nurtures its craftspeople with the warmth of a mother. We began the journey in the jostling arts and crafts hub of today, the city of Mumbai. From there we travelled to the cities that lie at the heart of Rajasthan, Jodhpur and Jaipur, where we met the desert’s own artisans at work.
  • Arts

  • Crafts & Design





The story of how this journey came to be is still a blur. It was in December that kamalan received a proposal from Hole & Corner who had looked at our newsletter, to do a story on the handicraft traditions of India. The story was due for their Journey issue, and after a quick back and forth communication, we set out to India in January. It is amazing how things fall into place like the threads of a woven sari.

Our journey began in the metropolis of Mumbai. The bustling city welcomed us with loud noises and crowded streets. As we entered a lane, that lies between the oval maidan and the docks. The clanker and racket dull, the streets appear wide and the vehicles move instead of stopping every inch. The place feels like a carnival, the walls painted in bright walls, artists and photographers roaming the pathways in anticipation of an idea. Kala Ghoda precinct, the cultural centre of Mumbai strolls past lazily in a city that always moves in haste. We were in the city to meet with the founder of Artisans’, a gallery that aims to support and promote local arts and crafts.

For an art form to flourish, patronage of it was essential. An artist or a craftsperson needed someone to support and sustain their lives and provide them with the encouragement and the means to carry on practising their art. Patronage, with all its flaws, helped sustain the tradition of arts and crafts by providing the craftspeople with sustenance and an audience for their craft.

Our journey that had begun in the city of Bombay, was about finding the artisans and their patrons.


The sight of Jodhpur quenched our parched eyes - the blue city offering a welcome change to the golden monotony of the desert. The city, from its blue washed buildings, burnished forts and bright turbans, brims with artistic pleasure. The guardian fort, Mehrangarh beams majestically as a testimony of this cultural delight.

Our wandering thoughts were broken as the car stopped at the village of Salawas, about an hour south of the blue city, to meet with the renowned weaving community, known specially for their dhurrie rugs.  The village seems to grow dhurries, with its low compounds, walls and paths covered with brightly colored and patterned  rugs.

Our next stop was at Singhasni,  famous for its matkha pots.  Matkha or matkhi pots are supposedly the first earthenware to be made by the potters. These ecologically sustainable  pots were used in these dry lands to store and cool water. Wanting to experience for a fleeting moment that intimacy we once shared with the earth, the guests dug their hands into the clay. The clay, as if it recognised the distant hands, failed to shape itself into a pot.

Then we travelled to the village of Pipar, 65 kms to the south of Jodhpur, to be welcomed by fabric rolled out across the ground to dry in the morning. The car went around in circles lost in the middle of nowhere. Finally we entered the village with three big houses from where the best indigo dyed dresses are sent out to the world. Here, we met Yaseen Shahabuddin and his family, the last family left in the village who carry on this tradition of block printing and natural textile dyeing.


Jaipur, the most famous of all the cities in Rajasthan, is a city of opulence.  Pink City showed us the beauty of royalty and extravagance. We were welcomed by the jewellers into their alchemy-smelling workshops, where gold flows like lava and is moulded into a jewel, precisely cut precious stones are delicately handled and placed into a piece. They had been the royal jewel makers for over three centuries.

That evening saw our photographer, screaming and holding his life in his hands, atop an elephant roaming the streets of Jaipur. Then our guests tried their hands at cooking in the Indian style. The pakoras they made tasted pretty good, making think of an alternate career plan.

From the big and busy workshops, we moved to a small room along the old city – the workshop of one of the last practising artisans of the endangered art of Meenakari, an art of fine enamel painting.  Finding the workshop proved to be an arduous task, taking us through the narrow pink lanes of the city. The man himself is silent, deeply engrossed in his work - an aura of mystery palpable. The room seems so still, the passage of time adjusting itself to the steady hand movements of the artisan. Meenakari was once used to send messages intended to be for the receiver only. The secrecy associated with the craft permeated into this mysterious and intimate setting.

It was time for us to bid adieu to the desert lands that have been the oldest and the grandest patron of all. In its innate absence, it nurtured and aided the development and preservation of handicraft traditions that somehow make our lives better. It was Dussera and the terraces were full of children, men and women, staring intently at the sky, their hands swiftly moving to tug at a string of thread manja connected to the patangs that soar, dive, fly. float and fall. The sky was filled with kites waving us goodbye.

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