Masterpieces at Crafts Museum

An insight into the rich craft tradition of India, through Crafts Museum collection

Goddess Kali, the terrible form of Parvati and wife of God Shiva, slaying a demon (1700/1799) by UnknownCrafts Museum

Goddess Kali, the terrible form of Parvati and wife of God Shiva, slaying a demon

Surrounded by a halo of poisonous cobras and riding on the lifted palms of her female attendant, goddess Kali is shown here slaying a demon.

Her enormous earrings embellished with fierce animal motifs, bulbous eyes and fangs. along with her numerous arms represent the goddess as the feminine counterpart of the one who presides over havoc and destruction.

Peacock Casket (1900/1910) by UnknownCrafts Museum

The Mayur phorua or Peacock box

The Mayur phorua, literally "peacock box", a creation of the nomadic Ghantrar metalsmiths of the region and cast in lost wax technique is generally used to store valuables and is consequently equipped with a lock.

The crowned peacocks perched on the lid are characteristic of the region.

Jagannatha temple at Puri (1900/1910) by UnknownCrafts Museum

Jagannatha temple at Puri

Pilgrim paintings as souvenirs are a common tradition in India where elaborate cults develop around a shrine on temple.

The Jagannatha temple at Puri, on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, is the centre of the cult of Jagannath, the ""Lord of the World"". The majestic temple of Puri, depicted in this patachitra or painting on rag board for the benefit of pilgrims, was built in the 12th century C.E. probably in the last decade of the long reign of Anantvarman Codagangadeva.

This painting conceptualises the awe- inspiring temple at Puri along with its main deities, ""the Jagannath trinity"" which was developed in the Ganga period and consists of juxtaposed gods Vishnu (Jagannath, Krishna) and Siva (Balbhadra, Samskarsana) together with a common Sakti (Subhadra, Katyayani)."

Toy animals (1950/1970) by UnknownCrafts Museum


In Puri, and to some extent Raghurajpur, there exists a tradition of making wonderful lightweight figures, also known as gobar kandhayi, or toys made from cow dung. Unlike the paper mache technique, the toys are created by covering a clay model of the envisaged toy with layers of old paper moistened with water and gum.

A string beneath these layers along the central horizontal axis of the model is the jerked out, effectively causing the paper model to be cut in half. The inner clay is removed and the hollow paper image put back together with the help of gum and cow dung. the surface is then smoothened and painted, initially in base white, upon which the bright colors of facial and other details added. Often such toy animals, with movable heads, are also made in very large sizes.

Jali, Latice work for window (1990/1999) by UnknownCrafts Museum


The enchanting play of light and shadow from the jalis or lattice windows are an integral part of the havelis and palaces of Rajashtan. Ideal during the hot humid Indian summer, the jalis dispel the harsh rays of the sun and allow a cool creeze to circulate in the interiors.

Moreover, the purdah-conscious Rajasthani women use the jalis of their balconies and terraces to enjoy the view of the bazaar without being seen themselves by the public.

Goddess Kali, a form of Parvati trampling upon the body of Shiva (1980/1985) by UnknownCrafts Museum

Goddess Kali, a form of Parvati trampling upon the body of Shiva

The women of Madhubani district in Bihar are adept in creating beautiful caskets, toys in the figures of birds and animals and deities like these, by sewing together a locally-found grass sikki. This grass is picked by hand directly from fields where it grows wild and is split with ones teeth, unlike the moonj grass which requires a sharp needle.

It is then dried and finally dyed in various colours. Water is an important ingredient during coiling stage as it makes the splits more pliant.

In the figure Kali, the Goddess of destruction is depicted holding the decapitated head of a demon in addition to her dagger and bowl for drinking the blood of her victims. She is shown trampling upon the body of her consort, Shiva.

Shawl (1780/1799) by UnknownCrafts Museum

Kani Shawl

The kani shawl, a particular loom woven shawl, as opposed to the later amli or embroidered variety, was once the mainstay of the economic industry in Kashmir and the village Kanihama from where the shawl probably derives its name.

The hashiya, or narrow-patterned border along the sides of this yellow ochre shawl is executed in floral creeper on a white ground. The broad end-pieces or phala are embellished and flowering cones shaping out into an ambi or mango motif. These in turn are bound between two horizontal narrow borders, or tanjir, in single flower motifs within separate hexagonal white grounds.

Smoking Hukkas or pipes (1900/1910) by UnknownCrafts Museum

Smoking Hukkas or pipes

Hollow bamboo culms with a base formed at internode, or hollow cane, are used as water containers in the ingenious construction of hukkas or pipes used by both men and women of the North East.

A portion of the rhizome, the underground stem of bamboo, forms the upper lid which is made so as to hold two pipes, one along the central axis, and the other diagonally, and generally longer than the first. The second pipe is used to pull in the smoke while the vertical one is used to hold a clay receptacle, now missing, containing tobacco.

Temple hanging of the Vaishnava sect depicting festival of Sharad Purnima or autumn full moon (1900/1910) by UnknownCrafts Museum

Temple hanging of the Vaishnava sect depicting festival of Sharad Purnima or autumn full moon

The pichhavais or ritual temple hangings of the Vallabacharya sect are beautifully painted cotton cloths used as backdrops behind the main idol of Krishna in the inner shrine of the temple. This particular painting is used for the festival or Sharad Purnima or autumn full moon.

Shri Nathji, the local form of Krishna, stands on a throne of lotuses. The forested landscape of Brindavan, the groves where Krishna played as a child, is indicated by the plantain leaves and mango trees.
Three Gopis, or cowherdesses, stand on each side with raised arms as of dancing for theior beloved Krishna.

The lower panels depict scenes of govardhan puja (cow-nourisher-worship) and danlila or Krishna demanding butter as toll, and a row of white cows looking up towards the main deity. Around the central portion are 24 small panels depicting various scenes from Krishna's life.

Ghora Kalash, votive equestrian figure (1999/2010) by UnknownCrafts Museum

Ghora Kalash, votive equestrian figure

Ritual terracottas like this horse rider are offered in two types of sacred spots in Darbhanga: brahmasthan and salheshstahna, associated with upper caste Hindus and humble Dushadhs respectively.

For upper caste Hindus, the terracotta horse rider is the embodiment of Brhmji, a Brahmin youth who died unmarried and whose disturbed soul is wandering around in search of a home.

The equestrian terracotta serves as a receptable for the unincorporated soul of this youth who in turn protects the village from evil influences and harm.

These votive figures are offered at the brahmasthan, where offerings are made to them in form of flowers, vermillion and sweetmeats.

Among the Dushadhs, the terracotta horse rider is offered to Sailesh, a mythical hero who lived in Rajaji-ki-phulwari in the Terai region of Nepal. Generally, these figures are offered by devotees upon wish-fulfillment.


One instance of a visit to Saleshstan for making votive offerings was furnished by Uchit Dushad of Katharwari. Once his brother was accused of being involved in illicit traffic in women. Uchit knew that his brother was innocent. He therefore took a vow that if brother was honourably acquitted, he would offer a Ghora Kalash (horse rider) to Salheshsthan and also would attend the fair at Rajaji-ki-Phulwari near Jainagar

Credits: Story

Text and Images:
Jyotindra Jain, Aarti Aggarwala. Museums of India, National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, New Delhi. Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing Pvt. Limited, 1989.ISBN 0-944142-23-0

Pankaj Shah

Cover image
Craftsperson for creating mural at Crafts Museum

Online exhibit compilation:
Digitization Team, Crafts Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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