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Indian Artisans – Social Institutions and Cultural Values

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Item Code: IHL825
Author: R.K. Bhattacharya and S.B. Chakrabarti
Publisher: Anthropological Survey of India, Kolktata
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 8185579563
Pages: 150 (14 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.1 inch X 8.6 inch
Weight 630 gm
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Book Description
From the Jacket

About the Book

This special volume on Indian Artisans is a collection of contributions made by very eminent scholars in their respective fields of excellence. This has been brought out on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of India’s Independence. The rich tradition of Indian crafts and artisans has been well reflected through the individual papers. These have not only covered a broad socio-cultural spectrum of the various crafts but have also touched upon the implicit aesthetic overtones. The volume also contains useful illustrations to highlight the geographical and social distributions of the crafts and craftsmen in this country.

About the Editors

Dr. R. K. Bhattacharya (b 1942) is Director of the Anthropological Survey of India, Government of India. He is also holding the dual charge of the Director of the Eastern Zonal’ Cultural Centre and was on dual charge as the Director, Raja Rammohan Roy Library Foundation, Calcutta. His major area of interest is the study of minorities and he has authored publication on Moslems of Rural Bengal (1991). He had been associated with the Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad and Visva— Bharati, Santiniketan. He has contributed a number of papers in various professional journals and has participated in many national and international seminars. Besides, Dr. Bhattacharya has edited important publications of the Survey, namely Contributions to Holistic Traditions — Anthropology India (2000) and has jointly edited Sociology in the Rubric of Social Science (1995) and Anthropology of B.S Guha (1996).

Dr. S. B. Chakrabarti (b 1943) is Superintending Anthropologist (Cultural) and Head of Office, Eastern Regional Centre, Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta. He is the author of-the book, Around the Plough (1986). He has jointly edited important publications such as Agrarian Situation in [nd1a - 2 Vols. (1984-85) and L. K Anantha Krishna Iyer 125th B1rth Anniversary Tr1hute (1989} He has also edited Social Science and Social Concern (1988), and Man, Myth and Media (1999). He is associated with the Departments of Anthropology, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan and Vidyasagar University as an examiner. He has contributed a number of papers in professional journals and has participated in many academic seminars in this country.



The Anthropological Survey of India (An.SI) deserves to be complimented for bringing out this volume on Indian Artisans, as its tribute to the Nation, on the occasion of the Colden Jubilee of Independence. Anthropology is the holistic study of Man-in-Nature; a materialistic and institutional complement to the philosophical study of being-in-the- World. No other living being surpasses Homo sapiens in the range and variety of creative expression; it is because of this distinctiveness that Man leaves an impress on Nature - for good as well as bad. It is this impress that cultural anthropology seeks to explore in a holistic sense.

Crafts are an important element of the variegated panorama of cultural expression. Craft is technology - one can trace the genesis of technology to Man creating tools, the wherewithal for survival. Craft is also a creative urge and aesthetic sensibility. Craft is also the product of belief systems and of living traditions; it encapsulates the life of the artisan and the society - the Time and Space - in which he lives. The Anthropological approach, being holistic, views Man-in-Nature as a whole; unlike the six blind men who took that part of the elephant they touched to be the essence of the elephant.

This volume brings together a collection of celebrated scholars of different disciplines; they reflect and together they present a holistic kaleidoscopic picture of Indian artisans. I am sure that the variety of the fare the volume offers would attract a range of readers - erudite scholars as well as laymen. I hope that all readers will come to appreciate the spirit of Anthropology.



This special volume of the Anthropological Survey of India, Indian Artisans: Social Institutions anal Cultural Values is a part of the commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of India’s Independence. A select group of scholars were involved to contribute to the wide spectrum of the theme. Nine of these scholars responded to our invitation and we take this opportunity to thank each of them for their valuable contribution. It is indeed unfortunate that our contributor, Smt. Meera Mukherjee, passed away before this volume could be published and Shri Pravas Sen passed away after the publication of the first edition.

The editors remain beholden to Dr. R. V. Vaidyanatha Ayyar, Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Culture, Youth Affairs and Sports, Department of Culture, for very kindly writing the EOREWORD of this volume in spite of having an unimaginable busy schedule. They are also grateful to Prof. Kumkum Bhattacharya of Visva—Bharati, Santiniketan for kindly sparing her valuable time by going through the entire manuscript very quickly and doing necessary improvements. The editors thankfully put on record sincere gratitude to their colleagues, Dr. B. N. Sarkar, Dr. S. Chanda, Smt. Gopa Chakraborty, Dr. P. K. Guha, Sri Anup Giri, Shri Pijush Mukherjee and Sri B. M. Goswami for rendering valuable and ungrudging academic and technical assistance at various stages of the present publication. In the second edition the maps representing various crafts have been put in different shades.



It hardly requires an emphasis that India with her enormous variety of crafts and craftsmen withstood all kinds of social pressures, economic hardship as well as political vicissitude since very early days. The innate skill and wholesome dedication of the practitioners, that have gone into the making of this glorious occupational tradition over time, only sharpened the process of perfection and extraordinary excellence in an otherwise ancient social matrix. "Since crafts include all activities that produce or modify objects by manual means, with or without the use of mechanical aids, the range of study is very broad. There is an equally wide range of social forms within which the craftsmen operate" (International En- cyclopedia of the Social Sciences Vol.III New York, The Free Press 1968, Macmillan Co. p.430). Traditional craftsmanship in our country according to Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay "has meant far more than skill with materials, more than manual dexterity in manipulating tools. It has meant a total operation involving emotions, mind, body and the vibrant rythm that such a coordination generates" (India’s Craft Tradition, Publication Division, Government of India, 1980 p.1). These communities, spread all over the country from north to south and east to west, who have associated themselves either individually or collectively in these creative pursuits, have proliferated their activities in a number of specialized areas. One cannot think of the structure of the Indian civilization without ascribing a very special position to this traditionally skilled groups of people, who have, through their indigenous means, articulated an exquisite meaning and inspiring insight into the domain of human cognition. This aspect of the Indian society needs to be highlighted, especially during the momentous year when the nation is going to celebrate the golden jubilee of its independence.

In India the artisan communities primarily form a significantly noticeable section of rural population. Arts and crafts together make an inseparable cultural heritage which remains largely the central focus of the traditional village communities, including a few urban communities. The arts and crafts have remained hereditary and monopolistic occupations for specific communities and have been inextricably linked with the productive system. It presents a wide variety, comprising indigenous products with their own cultural linkages. The examples are: metal crafting including bronze, brass, bell-metal and gold being fashioned into statues, utensils, cutlery, articles for use in temples, arms, armours and jewellery; wood and stone crafts including wood/stone carvings; decorative and inlaid wood/stone crafts and utility items; products made of bone, horn, ivory, tortoise shell, sea-shell, lac, terracotta, ceramic and glass; basketry and mats and products using cotton, wool and jute. In each of these there is evidence of creativity and traditional links with culture. Arts and crafts of our tribes too enjoy a unique position in this panorama.

In a note on Indian Census and Anthropological Investigations, P. Padmanava, the former Registrar General of India made an over-view of the handicrafts surveys undertaken by the indian Census Organization during 1961 and 1971 (1978). They conducted these surveys with two main objectives. One, these were included to provide data for planning and development of traditional crafts and household industries and two, for studying the craftsmen in relation to the social setting and their inter- relationship with the immediate larger communities of agriculturists. They brought out a number of volumes at the state level on the basis of 1961 Census concentrating study on 150 traditional crafts intensively. The Indian Census very rightly identified the relevance and importance of the artisan communities and their traditional arts and crafts as a necessary linkage to the predominant mode of agricultural production. This was historically ordained in the case of India which received attention of various acclaimed social thinkers of both this country, and abroad. The Indian Census has also brought out a very exhaustive bibliography on various items on arts and crafts spread throughout the length and breadth of this country.

The studies on Indian arts and crafts were conducted by scholars belonging to a number of disciplines along with various development agencies of the Government. One group of scholars was primarily interested in the technological aspects of the crafts whereas the other group was interested in interpreting the social and economic aspects both against the backdrop of descriptive and analytical framework. Apart from the scriptural reference of the Vastu-Sastra and Silpa Sastra, the major reference of arts and crafts appeared during the Company’s Rule in this country. It was precisely due to commercial interest of the Company that they started collecting basic information on arts and crafts. Subsequently many European scholars also participated in the same venture. At a later date, apart from the Indian Census publications, other specialized agencies like the Khadi and Gramodyoga Board, the All India Handicrafts Board and various other organisations collected a huge body of information and published materials on traditional handicrafts and arts. In India more than 110 scheduled caste communities distributed in 18 States are still found pursuing some kind of craft, e.g. weaving, basketry, pottery, blacksmithy, woodwork, engraving, dress making, making coir product, modeling, metal work, leather work, constructing musical instrument, stone work, rope making, gold land silver work, vessel making, saddle making and various others. Similarly, there are about 60 tribal communities who still practice some kind of craft using their own forms. They are distributed in 17 states of India. They are engaged in weaving, basket making, pottery making, blacksrnithy and iron smelting, woodwork and engraving, rope making, construction of musical instruments and various other items. This apart, about 83 general communities other than S.C./S.T. are engaged in specific art and craft activities (See Appendix and Map).

The Anthropological Survey of India has thought it appropriate to bring out a volume on this specialized area through intellectual enquiry by collecting together the contributions of a group of distinguished scholars from across various academic disciplines. Initially about 15 scholars were approached for this purpose. A few of them ultimately could not make it because of their pressing pre-occupations.

In her paper on the Vaskara Artisan, (Late) Smt. Meera Mukherjee refers to the inner cultural core of the Vaskara signifying the strength of both the sun as well as the sculptor. She further elaborates on various meanings of Vaskara. in the Study and Support of Rural and Tribal Arts and Crafts, K. G. Subramanyan has brought rout the sharp conflicting trend in the context of preserving and encouraging rural arts and culture as well as those of tribes. He has shown equal concern for the consequential changes that might come as a natural process. But he is apparently disturbed by the incidental effects of the market forces on the continuation of the excellence of traditional arts and crafts. Jan Brouwer in his paper on Artisan’s Indigenous Knowledge, harps on the traditional ideology of the artisan castes in south India which operates as a driving force in their occupation. He also looks into the amazing correlation of the indigenous ideas of the artisan groups with the concept of making money and profit. Baidyanath Saraswati in his article on the Potter Community mentions that the potters consider, contrary to the modern system of knowledge, their creativity and cognition as God's gift.

He brings an analogy to establish that the rythm of life of people rotates like the potter’s wheel and creates an aesthetically beautiful product with the blessings of God. Stephen Inglis introduces his studied people who carry forward an unbroken tradition of inner wisdom. Pravas Sen in his article on Folk Musical Instruments of Bengal (more particularly of West Bengal), lists out folk musical instruments of mainstream culture as well as musical instruments of a distinctive group of adivasi folk He concludes that like material culture musical instruments of our country present a case of unity in diversity of the indian society. In the same vein Onkar Prasad presents the case study of the Santal Musical Instruments and tries to communicate that such instruments symbolize the cultural expressions of life of the people. Atul Chandra Bhowmick in his presentation of the Traditional Textiles of Bengal. Deals with their historical background and various remnants of styles and techniques which came in course of development of its great tradition. Lotika Varadarajan in a slightly different context brings in the Calenderical Systems of the Nicobarese. What is noticeable in this paper is the perception of this indigenous oceanic people about the technology and management of their immediate environment for useful exploitation of the resource base for their living.

It was contemplated that each paper would delineate the socio-cultural and historico-economic context of perpetuation of a craft as pursued by a particular group of people in a particular area. The present volume aims at bringing in the implicit aesthetic meaning in the technical production of a craft including its social function. By and large me objective aimed has been reasonably achieved in these collective contributions. These studies have touched upon some issues on the trans- mission of traditional knowledge and wisdom in the perspective of the present state of dependence on an aggressive modern technology.




  Foreword III
  Preface V
  Introduction VII
  List of Contributors XI
  “Bhaskara” Artisans 1
  Meera Mukherjee  
  The study and support of rural and tribal arts and crafts 9
  K.G. Subramanyan  
  Artisans indigenous knowledge: its relevance for development 23
  Jan Brouwer  
  While the potter turns the wheel India lives her tradition fully 43
  Baidyanath Saraswati  
  Pottery and power in south India 55
  Stephen Inglis  
  Folk musical instruments of Bengal 60
  Prabhas Sen  
  Musical instruments as cultural reflex: a case study of the Santal Tirio 72
  Onkar Prasad  
  Traditional textiles of Bengal 77
  Atul Chandra Bhowmick  
  Calenderical systems of the Nicobars 107
  Lotika Varadarajan  
  Appendix 120


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