Includes a list of websites to buy from and funds to donate to.
One of my life’s earliest memories is of this little cantonment town named Nasirabad in Rajasthan. In the year 1995, while my father, an Indian Army officer was on field serving his country, my mother was serving her creative avocations right in the heartland of Indian crafts. She personally oversaw the making of her precious collection of wooden furniture and decor pieces adorned with miniature Kishangarh paintings. She carefully handpicked exquisite Rajasthani hand-embroidered clothes, bags, and juttis from tiny boutiques in narrow lanes of Ajmer. The starry-eyed five-year-old me fell in love with it all.
Growing up, we moved towns every two years, and travelled extensively. One of the greatest perks of this life of constant movement and change was an early exposure to unique Indian crafts and cultures. Visiting local craft melas became a customary summertime activity. It was the perfect destination to shop, eat, socialise or quite simply marvel at the exquisite handiwork of artisans from across various pockets of the country.
In India, the presence of melas and haats spansacross several centuries, and, over time, they have become highly effective distribution channels for traditional crafts. While melas are often held seasonally, annually, or around religious festivals, haats are more regular in nature. These open markets offer a great platform for buyers (especially tourists) and artisans to connect directly, often resulting in long-term associations.
To a great extent, the popularity of these traditional craft distribution formats lies in the buying experience. The ability to touch and feel a product, to learn first-hand about its making process and to see the hands that intricately crafted it — all of it adds to the charm of owning something handmade.
The e-commerce boom over the last decade has helped craftsmen take their creations to audiences across wider geographies. Websites like Jaypore, Gaatha and The India Craft House work directly with artisans specialising in varied craft forms from different parts of rural India. The online format seems to benefit both, craftsmen looking for a steadier income source and diverse markets to sell, as well as global consumers with no easy access to traditional Indian crafts.
The impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis on the Indian craft industry has been extremely severe. Already having borne the brunt of demonetisation and the imposition of GST, the industry, comprising mostly of small-scale producers, is among the worst hit by the pandemic. In an article published in The Wire, Laila Tyabji, founding member and chairperson of Dastkar, a Delhi-based NGO working towards supporting craftspeople and the revival of traditional Indian crafts, points out that a major change in how Indian crafts are marketed is underway. “The future of traditional crafts markets and bazaars is bleak. Going online is inevitable”, she affirms.
In the visual world we live in today, platforms like Instagram have worked wonders in unfurling compelling stories about traditional crafts and craftspeople. The India Craft Project is one such account that presents visual features of unique Indian craft forms and the artisans sustaining their legacy. In October last year, Google Arts and Culture, Incredible India, and the Dastkari Haat Samiti launched a digital exhibit called, Crafted in India. It is a virtual repository of visually delightful and emotionally rousing stories on crafts and craftsmanship. The platform gives us an authentic, almost lifelike experience of India’s cultural and artistic diversity. In times like now, such outlets serve as a window into the magnificent world of Indian craft — at least until our much-adored melas and haats are back in full swing.
Many Indian craft forms have been dying a slow death for a while now, and the pandemic, if anything, has only aggravated the situation. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that we revisit the ideals of Swadeshi that our nation was built on. Without us empowering our artisans, without them raising a new generation of craftspeople, we are at the risk of losing our glorious heritage and artistic legacy — the very essence of “Incredible India”.
Let’s all do our bit to support our artisan communities. Let’s all be Vocal for Local crafts.
Here is a list of e-commerce websites to support Indian crafts and craftspeople:
Here is a list of funds to support Indian artisans:
- Dastakar Artisan Support Fund
- Delhi Crafts Council ‘s Covid-19 Artisans Help Fund
- CCI Artisan Relief Fund
- 200 Million Artisans
Kindly note: These are not exhaustive lists. Please do share the names of other brands and funds to help support artisans in the comments below.8