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.