Craft traditions


Among man's early friends in nature, stone comes next to the earth and wood. The Stone Age is dated as man's entry into a definite age of achievement and the new medium penetrated every aspect of his life.

India is blessed with a large variety of stones. Stone monuments are fairly common all over the country. They are magnificent structures of sublime grandeur with perfect symphony between their architecture and sculpture.

A major tradition of stone carving seems to be centred around temples in India. Using a variety of stones, ranging from soft-brittle sandstone and patchy red stone to hard granite, the craftsmen mould replicas of the shore temples at Puri, Bhuvaneshwar and Konark, images of deities in various sizes and postures and utensils of all sorts. The innumerable figures with their exquisite expressions, fine detailing of ornaments and dress, the traditional poses of the epic heroes from Hindu mythology are all gifts of creativity.

Vessels for storage, bowls and simply ornamented single-wick lamps are products of the humble stone cutter in Tamil Nadu. Red sandstone is widely available in Rajasthan and it encourages the making of a host of everyday articles and ornamental stone work.

In Gujarat and Rajasthan the sculptures and stone workers work in the Hindu and Jain tradition of temple architecture and image making. Hundreds of artisans in Gujarat are engaged in the art of cutting and polishing semi-precious stones. In Bihar, the black stone is used for making everyday utensils. The inlay of colourful stones on marble and sandstone surfaces is characteristic of the Mughal period, the most beautiful example of which is Itmad-ud-Daulah's tomb near Agra.

Taj Mahal is world famous for Indian marble work. Floral, trellis, creeper and geometric patterns are carved on to the creamy-white marble surface, and semi precious stones set into it in the manner of damascene work.

The glory of stone work is truly revealed in sculpture and architectural facades. Sculptures of the Mauryan period, Buddhist carvings at Bharhut and Sanchi and the rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora, and Khajuraho have no parallels.

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