Storytelling is as ancient as time. Caves and cloth have been the canvas to tell tales of gods, love and war. At the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Delhi Crafts Council presents narrative embroideries on cloth, famously known as the Chamba Rumal.
Hoisted from the hill state of Chamba, Himachal Pradesh, this art form melds the skills of miniature painting with embroidery. It is inspired by the Pahari School of miniature paintings. The embroideries would often be seen on the cholis of women and the scarves men wore around their necks. The rumal won patronage of the Chamba rulers of the 18th and 19th centuries, and found its way into ceremonies and royal households. Therefore it’s not uncommon to find themes of mythology, Krishna, hunting, marriages and politics, sewn in bright colours on handspun khadi or muslin.
Ink drawings on the fabric was usually done by male miniature artists, followed by the women from royal families who would fill in the details in untwisted silk floss dyed in natural colours. Today, it’s practised by women across Chamba. The double stain stitch or the do-rukha, a technique that ensures the reverse side holds the same image, has been stylised and strengthened over the years.
The Delhi Crafts Council has been working for over two decades with Chamba women to enhance their skills sets. From floral borders to figures of gods, men, women, animals and birds, the sophistication of embroidery can be seen at the exhibition “Raas: Chamba Rumal, Life to a Dying Art” until April 8.
“We contacted various galleries across the world for references of rumals, which have been replicated by women from CHARU, our embroidery centre in Chamba. You can see how their skills have grown, from the panel of 1999 to 2015. The detailing of the form, the shape of the hand has been perfected, and the fold of the skirt accentuated,” says Anjana Somany, President, Delhi Crafts Council.
She draws our attention to two panels, one from their earlier collection and the other from 2015. Both depict a wedding scene, yet present different symbols. “There is always a mandap with parrots on it. In the previous one, the groom is Brahma. You can see Vishnu and Shiva behind. There are musicians, sweets, everything one associates with a wedding. But in the recent one, you can see that the video camera is larger than life, the aircrafts flying overhead seem to bless the couple, and the bride and groom themselves have multiple heads, suggesting the multitude of thoughts they have,” says Somany.
Over the last two years, Delhi Crafts Council partnered with textile designer Swati Kalsi, to bring a contemporary edge to the traditional art form. With miniature artists Jai Prakash and Prixit Sharma, Kalsi worked with the embroidery team at CHARU to present an art series of the Chamba Rumal.
“We wanted to retain the old stories, but express them differently. The stitching technique remained the same, but we experimented with the filling, giving the rumal a perspective and a texture,” says Khalsi, who is known for her work in sujani and banjara embroidery. “This is the first time that I’ve worked on narrative embroideries, where storytelling is a major component.” This is an exhibition that allows “paintings in embroidery” to come alive, bringing the stories of valour and love into our everyday living, according to The Indian Express.