Nestled amidst the pristine beauty of the Himalayan foothills, the Chamba Valley in Himachal Pradesh has been the cradle of a unique form of artistic expression known as Chamba Rumal. This exquisite embroidered handicraft, once promoted under the patronage of the former rulers of the Chamba kingdom, has a rich history, vibrant colors, and intricate designs that have captivated art enthusiasts for centuries. In this article, we explore the fascinating world of Chamba Rumal, from its historical origins to its modern-day revival.
The Legacy of Chamba Rumal
Chamba Rumal, also known as Chamba handkerchief, is a cultural treasure that has been lovingly passed down through generations. These finely crafted textiles have been a common item of gift-giving during weddings, adorned with detailed patterns in bright and pleasing color schemes. This tradition has deep roots in the region’s history and culture.
Geographical Indication Protection
The significance of Chamba Rumal is further underscored by its protection under the Geographical Indication of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. On 22 January 2007, it was officially recognized and listed as “Chamba Rumal” under the GI Act 1999 of the Government of India. This recognition solidified its status as a unique and culturally significant art form.
The origins of Chamba Rumal can be traced back to the 16th century, with one of the earliest reported examples created by Bebe Nanaki, the sister of Guru Nanak. This historic piece is now preserved in the Gurudwara at Hoshiarpur. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London also houses a Rumal gifted to the British in 1883 by Raja Gopal Singh, featuring an embroidered scene from the epic Mahabharata’s Kurukshetra War.
In the 17th century, the women of the princely state of Chamba, now part of Himachal Pradesh, began practicing the art of embroidering Rumals. These textiles were often presented as part of marriage gifts or dowries. Using fine hand-made silk from Punjab or muslin cloth from Bengal, they created highly ornamental patterns.
The Artistic Technique
Central to the creation of Chamba Rumal is the unique embroidery technique known as the “dohara tanka” or double satin stitch. This technique results in identical patterns on both faces of the fabric, creating a captivating visual effect. Chamba Rumal artists drew inspiration from various sources, including the Mughal art of Chamba miniature paintings, themes from mythology like the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and even events from ancient scriptures.
The Decline and Revival
With the downfall of the Mughal empire and the advent of commercialization, the quality of Chamba Rumal deteriorated. It began to be produced in various cheaper varieties, including tablecloths, cushion covers, and machine-made items. However, in the late 1970s, there was a renewed effort to revive this fading art form. Under the initiative of Usha Bhagat, original designs were located in museums and collections, and women artists were trained to recreate them. Sixteen designs were successfully recreated, and the quality of Chamba Rumal was restored.
The Presidential Honor
One of the notable figures in the revival of Chamba Rumal is Lalita Vakil, who received the prestigious Nari Shakti Puraskar award for her dedicated work in organizing courses and preserving this art form. The award was presented in the Presidential Palace by the President of India, recognizing the immense cultural value of Chamba Rumal.
The Modern Interpretation
Today, Chamba Rumal continues to thrive as a cherished form of hand embroidery. It has evolved into square and rectangular shapes, with materials including muslin, malmal, khaddar, fine charcoal or brush, and silk threads without knots. The double satin stitch embroidery ensures uniformity of design on both faces of the fabric, making Chamba Rumal truly exceptional.
The Living Tradition
Chamba Rumal is not merely a textile; it’s a story of tradition, artistry, and cultural heritage. With its vibrant colors, intricate designs, and deep-rooted history, it stands as a testament to the creativity and craftsmanship of the people of the Chamba Valley. This “Painting in Embroidery” continues to be a source of pride and a symbol of the enduring cultural legacy of Himachal Pradesh.
In every stitch of Chamba Rumal, there lies a piece of history, a touch of mythology, and a world of artistic brilliance, making it a timeless treasure of Indian craftsmanship.