Chamba Rumal of Himachal Pradesh Introduction

Himachal Pradesh is famous for its traditional folk craft, woodwork, metal wares, carpets, woolen textile and leather embroidery. Among the Handicraft in Himachal Pradesh, embroidery is an important aspect praiced by the womenfolk. The big handkerchiefs called rumal of Chamba are famous and has always been a symbol of affection and good omen. They are presented at festivals and weddings. They are also used for wrapping ceremonious gifts exchanged between the bride and bridegroom's parties during marriages. The embroidery on the rumal is the image of a miniature painting on fabric. The creations came to be termed as rumals or scarves, as they were mainly produced in a square format. The rumals reflected the artistic expression of the women of the household and were used to cover gifts and offerings. There are Pahari miniature paintings in existence, which show gifts covered with Chamba rumals being
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exchanged between the families of the bride and groom. Rumals were also used to cover offerings to the gods and while presenting gifts to the ruler or other high officials. The name 'rumal' means handkerchief, but these are not used to be kept in the pocket. These are generally used for covering gifts placed on metal & bamboo trays and baskets on any special occasions as birthdays, weddings, festivals or fairs.

Historical Background
It all began as a craft to cater to kings. And from there, the products of this domestic craft spread to every household that could afford them - or whose womenfolk could create them. At its simplest, the Chamba Rumal, literally, handkerchief, was a piece of cloth used a small drape or scarf. Steadily this embroidery began covering a range of items for daily use - caps, hand fans, pillowcases and wall hangings. The embroidery art form of the Chamba rumal originated and flourished in the erstwhile princely hill states of Chamba, Kangra, Basholi and nearby states which are not a part of Himachal Pradesh. Though practiced throughout this region, the
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craft came to be associated specifically with Chamba owing to the patronage given by the rulers of the area as well as to the quality of its craftsmanship. The artistic style of the Pahari miniature paintings which was influenced by Mughal Miniatures was reflected in the rumals which flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are Pahari miniature paintings in existence, which show gifts covered with Chamba rumals being exchanged between the families of the bride and groom. The earliest Chamba Rumals date back to the mid 18th century - and have had an unbroken lineage as it were, to the present day. The technique is similar to Punjab's "Phulkari", which is not surprising given the trade and cultural links. But the themes that unravel in the stitches are born of the artistic traditions of the hills. The place of the fine brush strokes that created the exquisite miniature paintings of Kangra is shared by the needle and thread of chamba. Though the Chamba Rumal has a very old history but it was in 1884, under the patronage of Raja Umed Singh that this piece of art got a new thrust. Thereafter the traditional needlework on the Chamba Rumal became famous in the country and even abroad. Some of the best Chamba Rumals can still be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museums in London. One such 'Rumal' at one of the two museums is in the form of a wall hanging which depicts scenes from the Mahabharata.

Technical Details
The shape of 'rumal' is varied with square and oblong shapes; they are ranged from small to a bed-sheet length. White Khaddar (cotton) cloth as the base and untwisted, unspun raw silk threads in various hues are used in the rumal. Double satin stitch technique is deployed, which give identical impression to the Rumal on both sides of it.
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Besides handkerchief, other products in this craft include wall hangings, hand fans, dice board, bodices, cushion & pillow covers, caps, fans (pakhi) and many other things depicting religious, historical & social themes on the Rumal such as Radha-Krishna, Krishna Ras Leela, Nag Leela, Shikargah, Gaddi & Gaddan with lamb, Minjar fair of Chamba, etc. A drawing of the pattern is done by an artist before starting the embroidery work. The choice and distribution of different colors is also done by the artist. Various themes are depicted on the rumals. The central space is occupied by the figures of deities, especially of Lord Vishnu in multiple forms. Some pieces have writings on them. Trees, birds, and animals are also depicted. A kind of thin hand spun cloth called mal-mal is used for the embroidery work. In some cases hand spun fine quality khaddar is used. The rumals are mainly used as a covering piece on the figures of deities. Fabric- used is Tussar or fine cotton faric, it is white or cream in colour. The cloth is generally unbleached and thus appears offwhite in colour. Material used is hand spun thin fabric like Malmal or hand spun hand woven khaddar. Machine made cloth is also used which remains unbleached. Thread- used is untwisted silken floss in a variety of colours. It makes the pattern appear smooth and glossy. Colors- Colors used are many and vary. No Chumba Rumal is found in one color. Blue was predominant in earlier samples. Other colors are green, orange and yellow. If a motif of the figure of Lord Krishna was used, the body was embroidered in blue and the hands and feet were embroidered in crimson or mauve. Colors were chosen based on variety rather than appropriateness.

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Stitches used were- Double satin stitch, carried forward and backward alternately, done on both sides of the fabric simultaneously. The embroidery appears same on both sides. The intricacy of the work on both sides of the fabric is such that you cannot tell the right side from the wrong. Stem Stitch is used when necessary and buttonhole stitch is used to finish the edges. Motifs Used: Animal and bird motifs along with human figures are used. Bird motifs include parrots, peacock, duck and swan. Animal motifs include leaping tigers, horses, rams, running boars. Tree Motifs include the cypress and the plantain trees bent, laden with flowers and fruits. The motifs were usually stylized in nature. The themes are mostly inspired by paintings and depict scenes from Indian mythology, Ramayan, Mahabharat, Ras lila, Krishna lila, Pahari paintings, hunting, marriage scenes, and game of dice.

The Subject of Embroideries
The subject of the embroideries has been based mainly on religious themes comprising Hindu deities, floral motifs, birds and animals. The Raas Mandal and Krishna theme have been particularly favored. The fabric used for the embroidery was normally handspun or hand-woven unbleached mul-mul or fine khaddar produced in Punjab. The rumal varied in size from one and a half to four feet in size. The embroidery itself was done in a double satin-stitch called Do-Rukha. Its beauty lies in the fact that the stitch becomes reversible and embroidery viewed from both sides is similar and equally effective. The Raslila in an old Chamba rumal rumal also
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owes a debt to Phulkari embroidery of Punjab. In both cases untwisted silk yarn was used. The colours of thread used in the Chamba rumal varied and no rumal was ever embroidered in a single colour. In the folk style, the colours used tended to be bright and bold and included pink, lemon yellow, purple and green. The more sophisticated colour palette included ochre, dark green, blue and paler shades. In the last few years, the rumals' importance is being gradually realized in Chamba. Some women have started embroidering them based on earlier designs. While they are skilled in embroidery, the cloth, threads and colours used as well as the compositions lack in artistry.

Reviving the Art
With the efforts of the government, Chamba Rumals are now available at all the emporia of the Himachal Pradesh government at Shimla, Delhi, Banglore, Chandigarh and Mumbai. The price of this artistic piece of art ranges from just Rs 250 per 'rumal' to Rs 10,000. Besides the government, a few NGO's have also come forward to save this traditional art of Chamba. The efforts of the government and the NGOs have generated interest amongst local residents and presently there are about 500 women/girls who are receiving training in embroidery at the government training centre here. With the efforts of the state government's science and technology department, the Chamba Rumal has now been patented. As objects of art, the rumals available today are either substandard or too expensive. The cost of genuine work ranges from Rs 250 Rs 10,000.

Dr. Parul Bhatnagar