Exploring Jaipur’s Artisanal Landscape: From Rajasthani Block Printing to Marble Sculpting

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Brought to you by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

The head weaver rises, his song permeating the carpet factory. His melody, a high-pitched trill, fills the room, causing goosebumps on my arms and neck. Underneath him, three family members sit cross-legged on the floor, their fingers rhythmically knotting hundreds of threads. The resulting carpet, a complex tapestry of oranges, reds, and ochres framed by midnight blue and tassels as brown as tea, stretches out from the small group.

Abhay Sabir, the proprietor of Rangrez Creation in western Jaipur, explains as he guides me through his workspace, “He is singing the pattern of the knots. Each carpet-making family has a lead weaver and a unique melody. This carpet will consist of more than a million knots, all hand-tied, directed by his song.”

The city of Jaipur, located five hours southwest of Delhi and on the edge of the desert state of Rajasthan, is a hotbed of creativity, where the magic of craftsmanship is alive and hands still shape work. The city’s artistic spirit dates back to Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who, in 1734, declared it a tax haven for artisans, attracting the best craftspersons from all over the country.

After my visit with Abhay, I clamber back into my auto rickshaw and continue my exploration. In line with the Maharaja’s vision, specific streets are devoted to particular crafts, and Chokdi Gangapol is renowned for its carpets. We journey on, the midday heat softened by a refreshing breeze and the enticing aroma of spices from street vendors.

Guided by the Pink City Rickshaw Company, which trains vulnerable women as tour guides, I navigate Jaipur’s many crafts. Bhagya Singh, our effervescent guide, points out silversmiths shaping paper-thin silver sheets at Subhash Chowk. We then reach Mishra Marble Creation, where I find myself amidst marble statues of Hindu gods, elephants, and lifelike tigers.

“Artisans carve these statues for temples across the nation,” Bhagya shares. “There’s a deep respect for tradition and art here. That’s why machines haven’t replaced age-old techniques.” We observe a craftsman in a scarlet turban meticulously chiseling a piece of marble into a work of art, as dust fills the surrounding air.

As we traverse under Chandpole Gate into the Old City, I marvel at the city’s stunning architecture. Over 300 years old, this walled area is the historical heart of Jaipur, painted in warm shades of terracotta, earning Jaipur its nickname, the Pink City.

Nearing Diwali, the streets are bustling. Stalls selling everything from saris to spices are tightly packed. As we pass by the City Palace, a masterpiece of Mughal design dating back to 1727, we navigate potholes until Bhagya and I part ways in Johari Bazaar.

I am instantly swarmed by jewel sellers advertising “India’s finest emeralds and diamonds clear as glass”. The marketplace is renowned for handmade jewelry, another of Jaipur’s celebrated crafts, although quality and price can differ significantly.

After a quick stop for a traditional clay cup of lassi, I venture down a side street in search of the faded frescoes Bhagya mentioned. These paintings used to indicate the profession of the families residing within the buildings they graced. While few of these remain, trades continue to be passed down through generations. As sunset tinges the sky the same hue as the city, I leave in awe of Jaipur’s crafts legacy.

Looking Forward

Upon reaching The Johri in the Old City, I join Florence Evans, who runs the boutique travel company, India by Florence. Her tour takes us into the heart of Jaipur’s textile industry, one of its most famous crafts, showcasing how tradition and modernity coexist in Jaipur. Set in a renovated mansion, the hotel is a fitting backdrop. “From the menu to the murals, traditional techniques have been implemented in contemporary ways,” she notes, pointing at walls adorned with hand-painted palm trees and lemon-yellow sofas upholstered in block-printed fabric.

We venture to Sanganer, once a town on its own, now absorbed into Jaipur as the city expanded south. Block printing is still central to Sanganer’s identity, as it has been for centuries.

“All aspects of this process, from carving the wood and printing the pattern to washing and drying the fabric, are done by hand,” Florence explains. “Given the increasing interest in slow, sustainable fashion worldwide, block printing has captivated many.”

As we return to the Old City, I catch sight of a potter crafting a bowl, so engrossed in his work that he is oblivious to the chaotic traffic. The scene reaffirms Jaipur’s enduring craft traditions and paints a promising future for this artisanal pink city.

Find more such stories in the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about craft heritage

Q: What is the significance of Jaipur’s craft scene?

A: Jaipur’s craft scene holds immense cultural and historical significance. It is a place where creativity thrives, and traditional craftsmanship is still highly valued and practiced by skilled artisans.

Q: What are the highlights of Jaipur’s craft traditions?

A: Jaipur boasts a diverse range of craft traditions, including Rajasthani block printing, intricate marble carving, and exquisite handmade textiles, all of which contribute to the city’s rich artisanal landscape.

Q: How did Jaipur’s craft heritage come into prominence?

A: The city’s craft heritage gained prominence under Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II’s patronage, who made Jaipur a haven for artisans in the 18th century, attracting talented craftspeople from across India.

Q: What makes Jaipur a unique destination for craft enthusiasts?

A: Jaipur’s crafts are a seamless blend of tradition and modernity. Artisans continue to employ age-old techniques, making each piece unique, while the city also embraces contemporary applications of traditional crafts.

Q: What are the must-visit locations for experiencing Jaipur’s craft scene?

A: Travelers should explore Chokdi Gangapol for its carpets, Subhash Chowk for silverwork, and Sanganer for block printing, to name a few. The Old City’s alleyways are also teeming with craftsmen showcasing their skills.

Q: What is the significance of block printing in Jaipur?

A: Block printing is a highly regarded craft in Jaipur, attracting global interest due to its sustainable and slow fashion approach. Artisans use intricate wooden blocks to create stunning patterns on fabric, a labor-intensive process that produces exquisite results.

More about craft heritage

  • “Jaipur: India’s Pink City of Artisans” (National Geographic Traveller UK): [link]
  • “History and Culture of Jaipur” (Official Website of Rajasthan Tourism): [link]
  • “Discovering Jaipur’s Craft Heritage” (India Today): [link]
  • “Exploring Jaipur’s Handicrafts” (Lonely Planet): [link]
  • “A Glimpse of Jaipur’s Craftsmanship” (Architectural Digest India): [link]
  • “Traditional Crafts of Jaipur” (The Better India): [link]

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3 comments

wanderlustDreamer July 26, 2023 - 12:29 pm

jaipur, a city full of artisns n tradition! so much history in its craft heritage. must visit chokdi gangapol 4 carpets, sounds like a drmtic xperience!

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TravelBug2023 July 27, 2023 - 4:11 am

ths text got me super xcited abt my trip to jaipur nxt mnth! the pink city seems like a vibrant hub of creativity. gotta see those marble sculptures n block printd fabrics!

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AdventuresAhead July 27, 2023 - 7:24 am

lovng the mix of old n new in jaipur’s crafts. thx 2 maharaja jai singh II, d artisanal spirit lives on! im gona check out sanganer 4 block printin, so hped!

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