The Indian Handicraft Experience at DASTKAR BAZAAR, Bangalore 2021 - Our Unique Binging & More!
A literal eye treat and a craft enthusiast's heaven!
This only happens to be the tip of the entire Dastkar iceberg because these Bazaars are wayyy more than just that.
Read on as we take you through a virtual walk through of our uber cool Dastkar Bazaar Bangalore 2021 Experience...
WHAT WE SUGGEST: Its a Looonggg post, with tonnes of images and loads of interesting information, so you might want to grab a cup of tea or Coffee, lounge in a quiet, cozy little spot and re-live this enriching experience with us :) We are sure by the end of it, you would feel relaxed & rejuvenated..
Happy Reading :)
Do Let me know how you felt about the article in the comments below the post!
About Dastkar Bazaars
Dastkar Bazaars are an initiative by the Dastkar NGO, a society for Crafts & Craftspeople. Established circa 1981, the organisation has been consistently channelling efforts towards providing a sustainable livelihood to the rich & diverse Indian crafts community by bridging the gap between urban consumers and rural craftsmen through their specialised consulting, resource providing and product design interventions, thereby making the rich Indian craft heritage not only more accessible, but also more contemporarized to suit the likeness, aesthetics and needs of the urban Indians as well as International consumers and Buyers.
The various artisan support programmes and trainings offered by the organisation, in collaboration with other non-government, government and foreign institutions across various aspects of running a sustainable business right from skill upgradation and product innovation to marketing, merchandizing and pricing of their products; have significantly impacted the livelihoods of many artisan families (close to 1 Lakh families) by connecting them directly to their audience without the interference of any middlemen, enabling a fair-trade, and a consistent income generation. These interventions have also brought about a successful revival of certain languishing craft forms for instance, the craft of Copper Bell Making and Dhokhra. As part of their American Express collaboration, they have been able to fund an Afghan Refugee artisan community comprising about a 100 Afghani women artisans based off of Delhi, at a point where their livelihoods had been severely impacted during the Pandemic to the core.
Recently Dastkar expanded their e-commerce platform, and launched www.handsondastkar.com which has made these rich traditional handicrafts all the more accessible both nationally and internationally all year round!
What Was Dastkar Bazaar 2021 @ Bangalore Like...
Their recent Bangalore Edition, spanning over 10 days; with a curation of some of the most unique and varied Indian craft forms; was an experience in itself, replete with live craft demonstrations & workshops being offered by the artisans themselves coupled with folk performances and a taste-tickling selection of traditional Indian cuisines - Daal Baati Churma, Kulhad wali Chai, Dabeli, Moong Dal Halwa and many more lip-smacking Indian delicacies to relish.
Watch the Copper Bells being payed at the fair by the artisan here,
Some of the crafts that formed the highlight of the bazaar included Sola Flower Craft, Terracotta wares, Glass crafts; Gond, Pattachitra & Kalighat paintings; Bagh and Ajrakh prints; Kashmiri Soof & Aari Embroidered clothing; Jaipur & Kurja Pottery; Stone Pottery; Bhujodi Shawls; Handicrafts by the Afghani refugee community; Copper Bells & Dhokhra Art; Wood, Shell, Sabai grass, Moonj and Bamboo handicrafts and a few stalls by the contemporary design studios and designers that are working with the crafts & the craft communities bringing about novel modern interventions.
During the course of its 10 day showcase, we ended up visiting twice, just to soak it all in! The way we’d like to narrate the entire experiential vibe is; ’Back to Basics - Redefined’. The curation was traditional to the core, but the slowness and quintessence of it somehow seemed to subtly grow on us, almost as if that was just what we needed in our contemporary urban lifestyle; making the products and crafts invested in, (purposely not saying, ‘purchased/bought’) much more than just mere commodities. We were so enthralled by the showcase and the cause, that the two visits ended up being quite a binge for us, and we picked up an assortment of these lovely handicrafts for us and for our families.
Our Day 1 binge comprised primarily the Black Stone Pottery from Manipur, which is just as unique as it sounds, and was the major chunk of what we invested in. Another unique find for the day comprised a DIY Craft Kit for Tholu Bommalata Craft from Andhra Pradesh that we picked up from a wide array of many such kits offering several other traditional Indian craft variations. Take a look at the HUGE assortment of these at the fair...
With the DIY Culture at an all time high, these interactive kits in our opinion, are by far one of ‘the’ most enticing and ingenious interventions of contemporary design studios in the craft sector, one that is very well suited towards creating an awareness as well as developing a sensibility and appreciation towards our traditional Indian Crafts heritage amidst the contemporary urban audience aka, “Millennials”, especially young children. We also grabbed a couple of super cool Neem Wood Pencils!
Moving on to our second trip to the event, one of the key reasons for our Day-2 trip to the fair was because of a quirky new product that got added to the curation a couple of days later, the ZENZULA! This was the first time ever that I saw this fun little “Musical Device”, and both, the design as well as the mechanics of it were so so compelling that we ended up taking the 20Km. (40 Km if you account both ways), aka, 1hr 45min (by Bangalore standards) Uber ride yet again, to Jayamahal Palace in the mighty Bangalore traffic in the scorching heat! (For those who might be unaware as to the gravity of this; I kid you not guys; this does take a fair bit of motivation! Ask any Bangalorean…)
Devanshu has always had a thing for musical instruments. He has had a bit of a dedicated training in playing Tabla & Casio back in the day. As for me, I have had a few hobby level classes for Casio in my early teens, but never really got to pursue it thereafter. So when we saw this on Dastkar’s social media Story, our first thought was “How did we miss this whilst we were there?”. Then we zoomed in on the screenshot to figure the location of it, and that is when we concluded that it was a new addition to the event, and one that we’d like to experience in person. What captivated us in ZenZula, above all other aspects, was the sheer ease of playing it and a quick look through their Instagram profile, gave an impression that even if one had a ‘certified zero’ affinity for musical instruments of any kind, it would still ingeniously sound melodious even in their hands! And… As it turns out, that’s exactly how it is!
Watch us have a go at the ZenZula for the first time here...
So our Day-2 picks comprised ZenZula (for obvious reasons of course!), two more DIY craft kits, one being ‘Block Print your own Dupatta’ Kit and the other, an interactive Block print Kit inspired from one of the Panchtantra Tales.
We also grabbed a few very realistic looking Sola Flowers, a little Glass pendant, a couple of Khurja pottery pieces, and a very unique little pendant lampshade, from one of the craftspeople from Bihar, that has a lovely hand punched design on what happens to be a dried, hollowed-out Bottle Gourd Shell! (Yessss! You read that correct. Bottle Gourd Shell Lampshade - I mean how creative can one really get ?? And wait till you guys scroll down to the image of it; trust me, you wouldn’t believe that its not leather, even now, when you know it isn’t for sure!)
There was a sizeable display of Khurja Pottery spread on the ground. One literally had to hop through the narrow meanders between the pottery matrix to scout for pieces from the entire ceramic bunch. Well, this was my first time shopping for these in such a 'format' :D and the scorching sun certainly did not make this any easier.
After countless tos & fros through the display, we managed to pick a couple of platters and large bowls (...Pfffff...) . The beautiful abstract glaze patterns made each of pieces absolutely unique, almost like an abstract art piece, which made it even harder to choose! ( I mean just look at these! )
However, one of the aspects that we found out was that, since Khurja Pottery units are commissioned by a lot of retail brands, both in India and abroad for productions of their own designs, most of the pieces that they showcase at these fairs are overruns and/or 'rejects' from these productions.
A major portion of the pieces on display comprised the ones, that owing to minor irregularities/defects had been declined by these brands, and perhaps that could have accounted for the discounted pricing. Nevertheless, unless cracked, these are mostly cosmetic level irregularities for instance, glaze not reaching the base, trapped air bubbles/minor bumps here & there etc.; that are not likely to hinder the product performance as such, hence, are worth the discounted price that was a 'Steal Deal' compared to the pricing for similar designs on the retail market.
(I have highlighted the minor defects in some of the pieces that we picked up for ourselves in some of the images below. Take a look!)
And… Of course, with the multiple rounds that we made through the entire showcase, we had a legit excuse to hog on some of the great food there. So on both the days, a sumptuous Rajasthani Thali (A Platter with Cuisine from Rajasthan) and Kulhad Wali Chai (Classic Indian Style Tea in Terracotta cups) were our go to, simply because the platter was - in one word - YUMMILICIOUS and Chai, because ‘India runs on Chai’ :D Period! Isn’t it?
Okay, so not to make you guys drool, but when we say Thali in our country, isn’t it kind of a mandate to mention all the dishes in it? It is, right? So just for the sake of this ‘protocol’ :) I am listing what all was in it, with a little disclaimer that, any drooling, mouth-watering/craving effects that this may lead to, are purely co—incidental (Heee! Heee!) Here I go - Daal-Baati, Choorma Laddoo, Kadhi, Missi Roti, Ker-Sangri, Lehsun Chutney, Gattey-Ki-Subzi and Daal. It was absolutely hunger quenching and taste tickling in every way (The images bear witness to how much we enjoyed the thali, given the number of odd angles that we were trying to fit the entire platter in our selfie). We also grabbed a couple of packs of Paapads and a bag of Kairi (Mango) Candies to munch on later!
Photo Gallery !
Bottle Gourd Lamp - Rajasthani Thali - Jaipur Blue Pottery Paper Weights - Handcrafted Wood Puzzle Games - Wood Block Artefacts - Cane Handicrafts - Dhokhra Metal Artefacts - Quirky Cane Stationery - Bhujodi Handwoven Stoles/Dupattas - Handcrafted Glass Jewellery - ZenZula - Handcarved Wood Printing Blocks - Silk/Cotton Handwoven Stoles...
Here’s a picture gallery, rather a visual treat for you guys to re-live a virtual experience of the Dastkar Bazaar Bangalore Showcase through our lens. I have also added in a few extra details and a couple of helpful links further on, for the benefit of those who might like to know more about them :)
Black Stone Pottery - Longpi Pottery
Also known as the Longpi Pottery or Loree Hamlei, after the small hilly village called Longpi / Loree in Manipur; this is an age old tribal craft form practiced by the Thangkul Naga tribe of Manipur. In recent years, these eclectic utensils with an amazing matte / satiny, smokey / charcoal toned surface finish resembling wrought iron texture, have found an increasing popularity amongst the international audience from countries like Sweden, United States and Germany.
This rustic, minimalistic pottery, in the words of Presley; the artisan who was showcasing at the Dastkar fair; is unconventional & one-of-a-kind, because unlike traditional clay pottery that is thrown on the wheel, this pottery is fashioned by shaping the articles with hands and unique moulds without the potter’s wheel. The raw material for this craft form is made by grinding two stones - Weathered Rock & Black Serpentine Stone, found abundantly along the banks of the Longpi river, into fine dark brown powder, which is then kneaded with water and rolled out into mouldable slab forms on wooden boards. These slabs are then further shaped by hands and moulds into desired shapes that once dried, are fired at about 900 -1200 degree centigrade in kilns where the clay gets baked for around 7 hours. Post baking, these pieces are burnished/polished by hands, by rubbing them with a leaf, locally known as ‘Machee’ (Pasania pachyphylla), that imparts this clay its characteristic 'Cast Iron-like' texture and finish.
The functional wares include Kettles, Mugs, Tea-cups, Woks, Serving platters, Oil Lamps, Bowls, Pans and an assortment of storage containers. These are entirely biodegradable, and can be safely used on gas stoves, microwaves and firewood. These are dishwasher and refrigerator safe. Occasionally, fine cane lacing is added in some pieces, as an accent design feature, those are then not recommended for microwave and dishwasher usage. These stone cookwares take a bit longer to heat-up, but once heated, retain heat for much longer than traditional metal cookwares, and hence are great for slow cooking and brewing Lentils, Soups and Curries. Also, these are more resilient to breakage compared to clay pottery/ceramics.
As Presley mentioned, no electricity or machines are used anywhere in the making process, which makes this craft practice quite labour intensive, one reason why the present generation is apprehensive of taking this craft legacy further. The procuring of stones for grinding involves a 20km walk from the river banks. These are collected and transported by women, in cane baskets strapped over their heads. Presently this craft is being practiced majorly by aged women from the Thangkul tribe. Presley’s venture supports around 11 women artisans from the community who are into fashioning Longpi Pottery.
I have personally tried out the wide-mouthed mugs with a stamped design detail & cane laced handles for soups (Price @ Dastkar INR 650/- a piece), and as far as my first impressions go, not only do they look super earthy and tastefully rustic as an addition to my mug collection, they are light-weight and also super convenient to use.
The size of these mugs is perfect to hold a filling quantity of broth and the soup stayed fairly warm till we finished it. In the beginning, I felt as though cleaning these might not be easy, but turns out, it was just as easy as any usual utensil, so Bingo points for that! This was my first time using these and I cannot be more satisfied. Look forward to having more soup in these :)
Tholu Bommalata Craft - Leather Puppetry Art
Tholu Bommalu or Tholu Bommalata, the leather shadow puppetry craft from Andhra Pradesh, is the perfect example of the ultra rich legacy of traditional Indian art forms. This craft is considered to date back to the very ancient times; as old as the 3rd century BC; with its origins rooted in the era of the Satvahana Dynasty. It is believed that the traditional Leather puppetry Craft of Andhra, was at its pinnacle during the glorious age of the Vijayanagara empire in the12th Century BC; and to make it easier to relate for those who might not know, this was the famous Tenaliraman's time (Yesss, that ancient! Isn't it beyond remarkable how this craft managed to reach 21st Century AD!)
This craft form, is the true embodiment of the folk culture of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Tholu in Telugu translates to ‘leather’ while Bommalu or Bommalata means ‘dolls’.
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This craft is being practiced primarily by the Marathi Balija community. Few families in the small village of Nimmalakunta in Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh are still engaged this craft practice. Tholu Bommalata is not just one craft, but essentially an entire Indian folk theatre culture in itself, that happens to be a spectacular integration of several age old art practices of painting, puppetry, music and story telling.
The base material for crafting these puppets is leather. Traditionally the leather obtained from Antelope, Spotted Deer and Goat-hide are among the most preferred bases for this craft. Earlier antelope leather was used for fashioning the important heroic characters, while the sturdier deerskin for the more aggressive, fighter character representations.
Presently, goat-hide is being used for crafting all the characters in addition to being used for fashioning props and accessories for them.
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Traditionally vegetable derived colors were used for painting the puppets, but now-a-days, readily available waterproof photo inks are used. The finer detailing in these puppets is entirely handpainted, using water-proof inks, fine tipped bamboo pens and brushes by the ‘chitrakarula’ community, also known as ‘Charmchitrakars’ (‘Charm’ in Hindi means leather and ‘Chitrakar’ means artist).
Both sides of the leather are painted for the maximum impact using bright contrasting colours, red, blue, green, yellow, orange with finer detail work in black. Post painting, the different body pieces are assembled together, by stringing them in a unique manner using thin wooden sticks, so as to allow for easy mobility while manoeuvring during the performances, and this is when the entire large ‘caricature puppet’ comes to life. Average height ranges between 3ft. to 6ft.
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One of the most characteristic features of these puppets are the tiny hand-punched perforations throughout the painted surface that create a dramatic, almost jewel-like, chiaroscuro impact; aka, play of light & shadow; as these are backlit during the performance. Since the leather sheets prepared as bases are translucent and super thin, almost parchment like; in my opinion, these perforations also impart a functional stability to the otherwise prone to curling leather bases by keeping them taut while stringing.
With the stage all set, as the Tholu Bommalata performance comes together, behind a back-lit, stretched fabric screen - it is a sight to behold, and an experience to be lived. The key themes and characters are inspired from the mythological stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. With the traditional musical instruments such as Dholak and Sarangi setting the tone and cymbals chiming in, the singers and storytellers known as ‘Bhats’ start the melodious narration, while the master puppeteers manoeuver these majestic, almost life size puppets behind the veil. This truly is a one-of-a-kind theatre experience, not to be missed, if you have a chance to witness one. Click here for a virtual Tholu Bommalata craft experience!
Presently the Tholu puppeteers have begun diversifying their art into contemporary lifestyle products for instance partition screens, wall decoratives, door hangings/ornaments, vases and lampshades, that are not only more suited to modern urban living, but are also much more cost inclusive.
The Tholu Bommalata DIY Kit that we got, has a few drawing templates, about 5-6 designs, with small goat hide pieces (reclaimed from the discarded skins from the butcher shops), inks, a bamboo tip and a paintbrush. This is a great little offering to experience this craft at a starter level.
This Kit essentially is an ornament set, and once painted, these shapes can be cut and strung as a banner/Door Hanging or as a mobile or can even be strung as individual pieces. We are super eager to try these out soon.
However, my one bit to this is that, I would have loved a DIY variant for this craft, with miniature puppet making inclusions and an easy step by step set of instructions for the puppet assembly to make this even more interesting while also imparting a closer experience about the actual Tholu puppet making craft.
Having said that, we are soon going to be trying this Kit out, and I am not sure, but how about having a little 'Insta' face-off between I & Devanshu while we are at it ;) (As maybe an Instagram Live or a Pre recorded process?)
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! :)
Our Concluding Thoughts...
It was undoubtedly an amazingly refreshing and an immensely enriching experience for us.
All precautions in lieu of covid were in place in accordance with government norms, with regular centralised announcements for wearing masks and maintaining distancing. The fact that the craftsmen from humble villages were accepting online payments via Google Pay, Paytm and bank transfers, was both comforting as well as heartwarming to witness (Well, the recent pandemic has indeed brought about some of the most profound changes in the lives of the entire human race, changes of the kind that until a year ago were unfathomable)! There was also a centralised card swipe facility in case of any troubles while using other online channels for transacting, to ensure a smooth shopping experience.
The incredibly rich cultural heritage that our country has in the form of our craft traditions is undeniably one of the most sought after examples of not just absolute deft hand skills, but also of ultimate creative expression and story telling.
On exploring deeper, you’ll find that most of these craft traditions date back to centuries and, in addition to the crafter’s hands and imagination, almost all of them employ some of the most basic and simplest of the tools known to mankind. Believe it or not, it is this humbleness and simplicity of expression, in terms of the tools and equipment, and the perseverance and dedication that it calls for when working with bare hands for most part of the processes, that makes these handcrafted gems incredibly unique and captivating. In each craft form, every phase throughout its entire making journey; right from the initial thought, all the way through the essential preliminary preps leading to the actual execution; breathes life into these creations and makes them so imploring. The fantastical creative naivety, achieved by the ingenious usage of expert hand skills and creative story-telling by the artisans, has its own unique, almost transcendental energy that gently resonates through.
Going forward, I wish to try to be more mindful of what I consume and also of the little ways in which I can do my bit to be more inclusive towards our traditional art forms in my day to day routine as well as in and through my art practice. The plethora of vibrant Indian crafts are an integral element that is absolutely indispensable to the distinctive nation that we are.
The continuance of these craft forms is a big question, unless our generation and the ones that follow, embrace these as part of their lifestyles and are willing to contribute towards the cause in whichever way they can. It’s not always only the ‘buying’ in traditional terms that matters, even spreading the word and awareness around, helping/promoting the artisans through your platforms, and developing a sensibility and appreciation towards our traditional arts heritage, also count, and can have a huge &a lasting impact. Since the know how of several of these craft forms have been passed down as family traditions over many generations in most artisan communities, with their current generation opting out of family occupations owing to lack of demand and a consistent income generation, ensuring the sustenance of this rich heritage becomes of paramount importance in order to avoid it from getting lost forever.
On that note, I’ll sign-off for now…
Hope you guys enjoyed this virtual walk-through of the Dastkar Exhibition in Bangalore and also got to know about some of the beautiful Indian traditional craft practices.
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below :)
Please feel free to share this post among your friends/family or anyone you may know, who is likely to be interested towards such a cause.
You are welcome to leave any suggestions/ideas in the comments below, for the kind of content you’d like to see from us in the future :) !
In case of any queries, please do not hesitate to reach out via Comments/Email. Would be happy to help any way we can!
Until next time…
(Aalie & Devanshu)
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