Chamba Rumal Embroidery of Himachal

Chamba Rumal Embroidery of Himachal

Languishing Craft

The Chamba rumal (literally handkerchief), poetically described by Stella Kramrish, among others, as an 'image of a miniature painting on fabric' is a form of embroidery that flourished in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries in the pahari region of north India. Running through Chamba, Kulu, Kangra, Guler, Mandi and Suket (all part of the modern-day Indian state of Himachal Pradesh), the craft witnessed an interestingly explicit distinction between 'elite' and 'folk art'. The languishing craft of the 'Chamba rumal' refers only to the delicately embroidered 'rumals' created by royal and elite women who had access to the professional services of trained miniature artists. These miniature artists not only drew the theme to be embroidered on the rumal in charcoal, but also provided the 'ladies' who would be embroidering the rumal with a sophisticated colour palette, thus ensuring that the finished piece of embroidery was aesthetic, delicate, and stylised - indeed, an 'image of a miniature painting on fabric'.

The folk version of the rumal - which actually preceded the elite one - was characterised by 'primitive' figures and a bold colour palette. In this, the drawing and embroidery were both done by the peasant women themselves. Unlike the elite version of the Chamba rumal, which later became synonymous with the term 'Chamba rumal', and is now categorised as a 'languishing' craft, the 'folk' version continues to be embroidered in the pahari areas even today, used often for the same purpose(s) that it was used for over a century ago.

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