By: Swaran Deepak Raina
The Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh is famous for not only its scenic beauty but also for its historical temples, archaeological remains and, of course, the Chamba Rumal, a craft fast vanishing into history. But now, with the efforts of the Himachal Pradesh Patent Information Centre of HP State Council for Science, Technology & Environment, a ray of hope has emerged with Chamba Rumal being registered as a Geographical Indication (GI) by the Geographical Indications Registry of Government of India. The Kullu shawl and Kangra tea are already registered as GI.
Once a flourishing centre for arts, Chamba, in fact, got most recognition for the Chamba Rumal, a testimony to which can be found in top museums in Indian and even abroad. The art-form had its golden period under Raja Umed Singh in the late 19th century when the Rumal became a well-known item even in neighboring principalities.
The ‘rumal’ basically is a name given for embroidery stitched by household women in Chamba region, depicting scenes from the Mahabharata, Raslila. Ramayana and even day-to-day life of hill people. It, in fact, depicts the transitory phase when the style of the miniature school of painting translated itself into the field of needlework. The ‘rumals’ are generally two to three square feet and depict themes from mythology, pahari miniatures, ragas, etc. The embroidered is dome on coarse cloth with glossy untwisted threads.
The outline is drawn by charcoal and then given to an artist who fills in all the details ranging from the inner composition to the floral or geometric border around the pictures. Both sides of the cloth are stitched simultaneously so that space on both sides is filled up making the design on both faces look equally effective and similar in content. This is why this technique is called Dorukha (Persian term meaning two faces). There is no knot in the thread used. During old days it was an important custom to give Chamba Rumal as dowry.
After embroidery, a frame was mounted to the Rumal, but now due to shortage of skilled carpenters hardly any such frames are being made. The Rumals are anyway available as objects of art these days, and have, therefore, become comparatively costly. The price ranges from Rs.250 to Rs.10,000 depending upon the size, motif and the intricacy in making it.
The Himachal Pradesh government, realising its value, took necessary steps to revive this style of embroidery and started a training centre in Chamba town recently. The Rumals have been made available at all emporia of the HP Handloom & Handicraft Corporation at Shimla, Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, etc.
The Rumal got national recognition in 1974, when the President of India presented the master craftsman award to Maheshi Devi, known locally as Adhyapika Jee. Following this, in 1993.Lalita Vakil, another Chamba Rumal expert, also received the same award and there have been others too who got recognition at the state level. However, the craft still remains limited as not many locals can find time for the intricate embroidery.
Lately, some NGOs have come forward to save this old tradition and dying art, but due to lack of coordination between the government departments and people running these bodies not much has been achieved. With its new-found status, the Chamba Rumal produced in Chamba region by authorized artisans can now find some protection as no unauthorized person outside Chamba geographical region would be able to sell or produce the ‘rumals’. Anyone selling or producing fake Chamba Rumals will be liable to pay a penalty of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh or imprisonment of six months to three years or both under the Geographical Indications Act, 1999.