Reviving a dying art form

Krithika Sundaram
Oct 03, 2012 at 09:54am IST

Very few who capture the myriad hues of the Chamba rumal paintings adorning the walls of the Forum Art Gallery here will believe that it’s one of the dying art forms in India. Such is the composition of the exquisite paintings, which have an aristocratic appearance and an unusual charm to its style.

Rumals, meaning cover or handkerchief, are embroidered square-shaped clothes from Chamba, Himachal Pradesh. The art came to be known as Chamba rumals because of the patronage of the rulers of Chamba until the early 20th century. Used for covering platters containing gifts that are exchanged between the families of bride and groom as a token of goodwill, the Chamba rumals are known for its skillful blend of painting and embroidery. The rumals are highly influenced by the Pahari painting style. Usually, the men folk of the Pahari miniature artists drew outlines on handspun muslin cloth (malmal). The women of the upper caste embroidered on these drawings using untwisted coloured silk floss, usually a double satin stitch called do-rukha. What made them fascinating is one could see the exact duplication of the art form on the reverse side of it.

Religious themes dominate the rumal paintings with the legends of Lord Krishna being the most favoured. The rumals feature Raas Mandal, Lakshmi, along with the four-armed Vishnu seated on the lotus flanked by adorning monkey,  Radha and Krishna are surrounded by a handful of gopis and they do the raas leela around the divine couple. Whereas in dandiya raas, instead of the usual dandiyas (sticks), gopis are found holding lotus buds. The chaupaud rumal has the ancient game of chaupaud or dice depicted. The lavishly embroidered rumal depicting Krishna standing under a tree is a cynosure of all eyes. Rukmani shringar follows the tenets of Pahari paintings, in which Rukmani takes a procession with her companions to a temple where Krishna waits and they elope together. The colours used in the rumals were vibrant, predominantly blue and red and further embellished with zari or silk thread. Floral borders and motifs, birds and animals were the signature style of the Chamba rumals.

Coinciding with Chambal rumal paintings, various contemporary artists displayed their works as well. While Biswajit Balasubramanian’s depiction of Krishna in watercolours was fun and cartoon-like with gopiars holding a camera and Krishna carrying an i-phone, Sculptor S Nandagopal’s copper-brass on Krishna, atop a bell, became an instant hit among the art lovers of the city.

Sponsored by the Delhi Crafts council and World Crafts Council as part of the Kaivalam Art Summit, the Chamba rumal and raas leela exhibition is on at Forum Art Gallery till October 10 at the Forum Art Gallery. For details, call 42115596

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