Vishwakarma, is the presiding deity of all craftsmen including potters, weavers, ironsmiths etc. This was an appropriate name given to a series of exhibitions which were conceived in 1980s to showcase the textile cultures of India through ‘Festival of India’. Smt. Pupul Jayakar, the doyen of Indian culture was given the task to show the diversity of Indian Culture through performing arts performances, textiles, crafts and cuisines to the world. Exhibitions were held in United Kingdom, United States of America, Sweden, China and France, which were highly appreciated and gave the people an insight into Indian folk, tribal and regional cultural diversity.
Under the name of Vishwakarma, seven textile art and history exhibitions were held between 1981 and 1991, which was a result of a harmonious interaction between handloom weavers, designers and artists. Shri Martand Singh, affectionately called Mapu by everyone, is given the credit to give a new lease to the Indian textiles. He took the charge of designing and presenting the textiles for the Festival of India. His approach towards reviving and revitalizing the handloom sector was unique.
The first Vishwakarma was called Master Weavers, to celebrate the skills of handloom weavers of Ikat, Jamdani and Brocade. Around 600 designs were made for this exhibition. The handloom weavers working with Weavers Service Center, under Ministry of Textiles, collaborated with textile designers to revive lost and languishing techniques of dyeing and weaving. ‘Pudu Pavu’, the second in the series concentrated on the weaving traditions of saris, dhoties and textiles in the Southern part of the country. Next one ‘Rasa’, the variant moods, resulted in sampling of around 300 designs. ‘Dhaari’ meaning lines was an attempt to look at the lines or stripes in different techniques which was explored in all medium of textile production in ten Indian States. Trellis or ‘Jaali’ experimented with the play of light and shadow and tone on tone through design innovation in Jamdani techniques. The sixth in the series, named as ‘Kshetra’ or field was all about crossing the boundaries or pushing the limits, which gave 600 new and diverse designs. By this time the handloom weavers had become confident and trusted Mapu’s team of designers and artists and collaborated to explore and experiment. The seventh and the last one “Birds and animals’ was a tribute to late Dr. Salim Ali, Ornithologist. Around 1800 animals and birds found in India were depicted by using Jamdani weaving, Leheriya and stencil printing and block printing.
What is highly commendable is that Mapu’s vision was not only to look at the aesthetics, but also to explore technique, material and socio cultural nuances to create something which would remind people of tradition but offer something new. Textiles of the Vishwakarma exhibition, developed around 30 years back and documentation of textiles under ‘Amar Vastra Kosh’ has till date remained an important source of authentic, unadulterated information. The most amazing part is that Mapu imbibed the beauty of the technique along with the emphasis on changing with the times.
This was the first time that the idea of exploring contemporary relevance with traditional knowledge and skill was explored and fetched fantastic results. The process must have been tedious as Indian crafts and techniques are inherited and passed on as oral tradition. Finding something that is lost or hidden would have been exciting but some of these journeys would have ended in disappointments too.
‘A search in five directions’- an exhibition of handcrafted textiles from the Vishwakarma exhibitions is presented by Devi Art Foundation at the newly renovated galleries at the Crafts Museum, New Delhi. The textiles offer unending delight to the viewers into the world of Indian textiles, and leave the textile enthusiasts mesmerized and spellbound with the quality of craftsmanship, eye for detailing and the unique and distinct regional character.
Crafts Museum courtyard on way to the exhibition dressed up with Rajnigandha flowers.
Jamdani Neelambari laid out in the front. Char Bagh Brocade panel from Varanasi in the background.
Dye painted and printed Tree of Life
Odisha Bandha– weft Ikat shows lotuses, coiled serpents and poems in Oriya script
Padma Pichhavai showing the lotus buds and full bloom in profile and realistic as it is seen in Ajanta frescoes
Morkuti Pichhavai depicts the dance of the peacock to court the peahen
Rusnata (Russian influenced) Gyasar Brocades made in Varanasi for Buddhist monasteries
Base of an elaborate and resplendent tree of life achieved by the dye- painting process using indigo and madder
Patan Patola ‘Chabadi Bhat’– baskets of flowers pattern
Screen and block -printed textile for the seventh exhibition ‘Birds and animals’ using single colour with half and quarter tones of black to fetch painting quality
Bengal Jamdani for ‘Jaali’
Block printed birds on a large hanging measuring around 9 meters X 5 meters
Metallic Gyasar for the exhibition at USSR on the theme ‘Jaali’, woven at Varanasi
Morpankhi textiles. Peacock feathers are woven as extra weft
Showcasing different weave patterns in a weave blanket
Design directory of block printing patterns from Sanganer, Rajasthan
Repertoire of block prints from Pethapur, Gujarat
Single Ikat Patola from Gujarat. Transition from traditional patterns to geometrics
Text by Dr. Sudha Dhingra, Professor, Textile Design Department, National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi
© Photographs : Ravi Dhingra