Craft traditions


Leather tanning as art form reached its zenith in India by 3000 B.C. The earliest skin used were of the tiger and deer. Skin mats were used by rishis, the holy men living in forests.

This is an old hereditary craft and is probably as wide spread as earthenware. Because of its wide prevalence in the rural areas, much of the tanning is locally done by indigenous methods which are pretty laborious.

India's largest leather products are in the footwear line. The traditional ones are more original, individualistic and colourful, and largely embroidered or done up in brocade or decorated textile. The extremely comfortable and fashionable Kolhapuri chappals are made in Maharashtra.

A particular type of thickish shoes called mojdis are made in Rajasthan. Sewn out of locally cured leather, they are usually ornamented with silk or metal embroidery or beads, or designs done in applique with thin leather pieces of different colours. Soft and delicate, the pair can be rolled into a little ball.

An equally colourful item is the knucklepad on which are embroidered dainty choice miniature landscapes and festive scenes, as in Rajput paintings. Ornately decorated saddles for horses and camels, a type of water bottle called kopi, beautifully shaped lamps and lamp shades are other fascinating items.

Shantiniketan under poet Tagore's guidance blazed the trail for the modern decorative leather items, which include current utility articles.

Leather work of Kashmir is very ornamental. In Punjab, applique is done with coloured leather pieces. Karnataka has been noted for leather with metallic gold or silvery finish or painted with figures or animals, mostly to form epic scenes. Madhya Pradesh's red leather embroidered with gold and silk is unique.

Leather work is found in its finest avatar in the field of book binding. Here, designs are painted on the leather, having been first outlined with a brass block.

Fascinating articles are made out of crocodile and snake skin such as wallets, pouches, handbags and belts.

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