Do you know how to identify sujuni and chinkankari (hint: they are not on the menu at your local Indian restaurant). If not, fret no more because Handmade in India: A Geographic Encyclopedia of Indian Handicrafts provides succinct accounts of just about every handmade category in India. Anyone with a keen interest in craft—collectors, art students, academics, craft enthusiasts, and even writers—will be drawn to this mesmerizing and comprehensive guide to the art and crafts of vast India.
Originally published in 2007 by The Council of Handicraft Development Corporations (COHANDS) in New Delhi, Handmade in India is part reference book and part lavish coffee table book, celebrating centuries of Indian artisans' mastery of technique and creativity. Surprisingly enough, it’s a real page-turner.
Unlike encyclopedias that focus on one specific topic such as The Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science (this is the branch of the Earth sciences that links ancient prehistory to modern environments), and that tend to be academic and dry, Handmade in India is quite the opposite: it's more like a labor of love from the editors—themselves textile and industrial designers who have taught at the National Institute of Design in India since the 1970s.
Handmade in India takes a user-friendly approach in its organizational layout. Because it is a geographical encyclopedia, readers are first presented with a map indicating the different regions accompanied by a list of the numerous crafts that each province is known for. General information is subsequently presented on a macro-level (mountain ranges, rivers, important flora and fauna, landmarks and languages) as well as on a micro-level (individual crafts of a region from block-printing to resist-dyeing, from copper to ceramics, and beyond).
The main body of the book explains specific crafts. Each section that pertains to an individual craft, for example dhurrie weaving in the Wangal district, provides an informative summary of the craft, with sidebars that include where in the district the dhurries are woven, what they’re used for, and the tools used to make them. The section includes vivid color photographs with in-depth captions and photos showcasing the detail of the technique in question.
Although the abundance of material might seem overwhelming, readers will find themselves absorbed for hours perusing their favorite sections as well as discovering and admiring new ones such as stone relief and lattice work from Jaipur or marveling at the beautiful painted details of the leather puppets of the Guntur district in the Machilipatnam region.
It will come as no surprise, given India's many millennia of textile making, that the textile traditions presented in the book are the most memorable part of the publication.
Like the abundant artisanal riches within its pages, Handmade in India is a luscious book that should be used often as a resource, shown off on the proverbial coffee table, and, most importantly of all, treasured as an unusually deep source of information about the handmade world.
Handmade in India: A Geographic Encyclopedia of Indian Handicrafts
Edited by Aditi Ranjan and M.P. Ranjan
579 pages, 3500+ color photographs; 140 maps
Available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and through bookstores everywhere.