CHAMBA RUMAL: Life to a dying art
The Chamba Rumal is a unique form of embroidery from Chamba, a historic town in the northern Himalayan hill state of Himachal Pradesh. It combines the two skills of miniature painting and embroidery. The word rumal means a kerchief, in this case, a large embroidered square piece of cloth, the drawing of which is usually done by the artists of the Pahari School of miniature paintings. Rumals were used as wrappings for auspicious gifts and as ceremonial coverings. Even today, during weddings in Chamba, these rumals are exchanged between families of the bride and groom as a token of goodwill.
The drawing for the rumal is usually done on the fabric with ink by a Pahari miniature artist. The drawing is then embroidered by the womenfolk. It was earlier done by the ladies of the Royal families but is today practiced by women of the Chamba region. The rumals were typically embroidered on unbleached hand-spun muslin using untwisted silk floss dyed in natural colours. The most commonly used stitch is the double satin stitch and the embroidery is known as do-rukha. This kind of stitch ensures exact duplication of the image on the reverse of the cloth. The overall design of the rumal consists of elaborate floral borders, ornamentation, and portrayal of figures and animals in a style which reflects the sophistication of miniature paintings. The most common theme seen is the life and legends of Lord Krishna. Rumals can be found in both court and folk styles.
Chamba Rumals were being made in the region till the early part of the 20th century. However, lack of patronage due to the accession of princely states may have accounted for the decline of this skill. Delhi Crafts Council decided to take up the challenge of its revival in the year 1992.
In September 1999 Delhi Crafts Council showcased the first exhibition of the recreated Rumals at the Crafts Museum in New Delhi. Thereafter, the exhibition with a collection of twenty five recreated rumals was taken across to many cities including Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Shimla, Chamba and Hyderabad.
The exhibitions enabled DCC to spread awareness about this lesser known craft. The many orders which were received in turn provided the much needed marketing support for the embroiderers and an impetus for the revival of the craft.
Today DCC successfully runs a center named Charu, where training is imparted to the crafts persons in design, colour and quality. Keeping the intrinsic features of this art form intact, innovation and new developments by DCC have helped in finding a sustained market for the product. The Council has been successful in procuring untwisted pure silk floss dyed in natural colours to enhance the beauty of the Rumals. Innovative framing ideas and packaging solutions have heightened the appeal of the product.
DCC’s interventions have provided life to what was a dying art and created sustained work for the famed women embroiderers of Chamba.