India is a country a nation of festivals, and it is a nation of crafts and cultural diversity. When you put all three together it becomes a constant celebration that sustains our individual cultural practices, the joy of creativity and the sustenance of livelihoods that are, in turn, crucial to the sustenance of India’s cultural heritage and civilizational value systems.
It is times like Divali that inherently link the fertility of the soil and the toil of our farmers with our sacred epics like Lord Rama’s triumphant return to Ayodhya. In most agrarian countries still rooted in pre-industrial age cultural systems, the celebration of a harvest is a time of bounty. There are food grains in granaries, and fodder grows in plenty. This is also the time for money in the pockets of the people. All communities share in this prosperity as farmers and fishermen depend on potters, carpenters, fishing net makers, basket weavers, and textile weavers for a new set of clothes.
From Dussehra pujas to Eid, which also coincides with Hindu festivals during this period, to Divali and the wedding season, all flow smoothly into the other, making it a time for shopping. This the time that crafts and handmade textiles are in most demand, and the season that India’s craftspeople look forward to the most.
All festivals are related to religious establishments and it is therefore at a time like Divali and the entire season that surrounds it when temples all over the country come alive and energise craftspeople. Small clay diyas to 4-5 ft high terracotta ones are created by our potters. These potters are found in every small town and in the bye-lanes of big cities. It is considered auspicious to buy fresh clay diyas every year, and these kind of beliefs are probably in order to keep potters employed. The ideas of ‘long lasting’ for metal lamps and ‘disposable’ for clay lamps have separate purposes and cultural meanings. Hand painted statues of all deities are readied for Divali pujas everywhere, especially of deities Lakshmi and Ganesh, who are auspiciously placed in the home where the family gathers to pray for a prosperous year for all. Today innovative artisans and development organisations have begun making diyas out of cowdung to provide livelihoods for those in rural areas who have cows and carry on small non-farm activities. All the materials they use are locally obtained and emphasise the bio-degradable of their products.
You can buy the most beautiful brass and bell metal lamps made in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. They gleam in all the shops at Divali time. Even if we have ample lamps at home a new one is always welcome. New vessels are also bought during this season. A wide range of beautifully designed lamps are made in all heights, with spaces for one wick or five, or eight or even in many layers . An elegantly formed peacock, parrot or even elephants form part of the lamp’s design and make it the perfect gift for any home. A shining brass lamp is always the perfect gift for family and friends.
Many wild grasses grow tall after the monsoons. This is when women harvest them for baskets, both for family gifting at weddings or to sell widely to wholesalers and retailers for packing sweets, fruit and other Divali gifts. The baskets called golden grass from Odisha, Sikki in Bihar and Sarpat in UP, apart from wicker from Kashmir and bamboo and cane baskets from Tripura are plentiful everywhere, displaying the basket weaving talents of women artisans everywhere.
The biggest sales and ceremonial purchases at this season whether from an online or from the irresistible trip to a market is to buy a new sari for the women of the household to wear at Divali. The beautiful Banarsis, Chanderis, Kancheevarams, Ikats from Odisha and Andhra Praesh and Telangana,and Bandhnis from Rajasthan and Gujarat, are just a small range of what is on offer. For the menfolk there are beautiful shades of raw silk kurtas from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, plain silks from Karnataka and the north east states of India that make every Divali a special day of celebration and dress style
More than celebrating the beauty of our handicrafts and handlooms this year, and enjoying the bounty that a good harvest gives us all for Divali, it is also a time to celebrate and honour their makers, who use their nimble, skilled fingers and creative imagination to make our lives and environment beautiful. It is the duty of every citizen to sustain our heritage of hand skills, our cultural heritage, and most importantly, the livelihoods of our craftspeople, traditional artists and weavers who have lived through these Corona virus days with resilience and strength just to fill our markets and our lives with happiness. They need our support in return.
The writer is the Founder/President of Dastkari Haat Samiti