Fabled Rumals of Chamba Himachal Pradesh India

Himachal Pradesh is a beautiful hill state in India. It is nestled between Shiwaliks and Lower Himalayas and due to cool weather have so many hill stations like Shimla, Kasauli, Kulu, Manali. Chamba is old city in the state. Situated on a mountain ledge overlooking the River Ravi, the town of Chamba was established in the 10th century when Raja Sahil Varman relocated his capital from the neighbouring Bharmour region, now the homeland of semi-nomadic shepherding Gaddis. The city is believed to have been named after the king`s favourite daughter, Champavati, who legend says, sacrificed herself to provide water to the parched city. To this day, women and children sing her praises in the town temples on the occasion of the annual Sui festival. The ornament carving of the Laxhmi Narayan Temple Complex, the Chamunda temple and the Madho Rai Temple provide ample testament of the consistent art patronage provided by Raja Sahil Varman and his successors. The hill state was rulded by a single dynasty in continuous series of accessions and consequently, it enjoyed a remarkably stable political environment in which the arts could be actively cultivated by the rulers. In the mid 18th century, a number of artists fleeing religious persecution were given refuge in the Pahari states; notable among the courts in which these artists found avid patrons was that of Raja Umed Singh of Chamba.

Although practiced throughout the region that comprises erstwhile princely hill states, the craft has come to be associated specifically with Chamba owing to the patronage afforded it by rulers of the area as well as to the quality of the local craftsmanship. Traditionally,the Chamba rumals were silk embroidered square pieces of hand spun and handwoven unbleached mulmul (muslin), fine cloth that were used to cover dishes of food,gifts to significant persons and offerings to a deity, or exchanged between the families of the bribe and the groom as a token of goodwill. The embroidery was done in a double satin stitch technique known as dorukha, which ensured an exact replication of image on the
reverse of the fabrics.Although practiced by women from all strata of Pahari society,the embroidery style developed by the women of the upper classes and the royalty has now come to be exclusively related to the craft.Both the folk and the court styles usually rendered the popular themes of the Raaslila, Raasmandal (depiction of dance in relation to Krishna and devotees), Ashtanayika ( a depiction of various types of heroines in their distinctive moods and environments),hunts and chaupad, dice game; the styles and colour schemes, however, were vastly different. The folk style made generous use of brilliant colours including pink, lemon yellow,purple and green while the court form evolved a more sophisticated colour palette that consisted of pale shades of ochre,dark green and blue. The court style reflects the popular pastimes of Pahari men and women from royal and noble families through the addition of details such as the smoking of the hookah, women shown talking to parrots, playing with a ball or dice or listening to music. It also derived its compositions, border motifs and floral ornamentation from the wall paintings of the Rang Mahal of Chamba and the Pahari miniature tradition. Often, trained miniature painters from the courts were called in to draw the compositions onto the fabric and to provide colour schemes. It is due to this close relationship with the painting tradition that the Chamba rumals have been called “paintings in embroidery”. In recent years, artisans have been encouraged to reproduce earlier masterpieces in order to sustain the craft. Simultaneously,efforts have also been made to diversify the craft products to include a wider range of items such as caps,hand fans, blouses and bedspreads. Below are some examples of Motifs.

Below: In the depiction of the Raaslila, Krishna multiplies himself in order to dance with four of his devotees, the gopis, while Vishnu witnesses the scene from his seat on a lotus.

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Below: Radha and Krishna are seated in the upper floor of the pavilion; the musicians, ladies-in-waiting and strolling peacocks in the garden reflect what was the lifestyle of the court.

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Below: The deity Lakshmi Narayan sits in the central quadrangle of a game of chaupad as three male figures sit in the four corners of the composition with sets of dice laid out before them. The dense stitching is believed to be based on the bagh (garden) embroideries of Punjab.

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Below: Godhuli, literally the “hour of cowdust”, when cow herds come home,depicts Krishna and his cowherd friends bringing the cows back at dusk.

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