Category Archives: Craft Heritage

Various handicrafts encountered on our travels

The Unassuming Indian Dhurrie

Dhurrie Weaver using Vertical Loom

Most Indians have dhurries at home – they are the default choice of floor covering readily available across the country in every size and colour possible. For this reason, other than making the distinction between a Shyam Ahuja dhurrie (these were very stylish and very expensive when I was young) and all others, I never really paid much attention to them. That is, until I saw some flat weaves in Morocco and it struck me that we make more interesting and high quality ones back home.

India has a rich tradition of floor decorations. Done to invoke blessings for the home using simple rice paste, and at times flower petals and bright colours, these have become an art form in their own right. There are regional differences such as Alpana in West Bengal, Mandana in Rajasthan, Muggu (or Muggulu) in Andhra Pradesh.

Equally interesting is the variety of floor covering …

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Hand-crafted Ceramic Art and Pottery by Pratima Vaidya

"Precious" Ceramic Art Wall Tile

“We create hand-crafted ceramic art for contemporary interiors,” says Pratima Vaidya of her pottery studio, Ishalgad Ceramics & Pottery, nestled in the lush green hills of the Western Ghats, 65-odd kilometres from Mumbai. “We do studio pottery, a concept where the products are hand-made and produced in small quantities.”

The concept has worked well for Pratima—in essence, it is responsible for the steady success of Pratima Vaidya’s exclusive collection of ceramics. As a sculptor, painter, and ceramist, she has acquired a well-deserved reputation for producing finely hand-crafted and exclusive ceramic art and pottery for the urban, contemporary interiors of today’s homes and offices. Now, in keeping with our dedication to presenting carefully curated selections, Arastan is proud to showcase a limited-edition line of products by Pratima.

A creative journey that began 30 years ago

In 1973, Pratima earned a Fine Arts diploma from the Sir J. J. School of Arts, Mumbai, …

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Pomegranate: Icon of the Silk Road

A pomegranate trinket on my desk

It was my ten-year-old daughter who first alerted me to the iconographic importance of the pomegranate. At Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar she pointed out the myriad trinkets—ashtrays, paper weights, ampules, candles, vases, key chains, pendants—in the shape of pomegranates. (She really wanted a ceramic pomegranate for her window sill, and I obliged her.) I wondered why the pomegranate was so favoured by souvenir makers, whereas there was no trace of any object in the shape of, say, a pear or a raspberry.

I also recalled that last year, when I travelled to Armenia on behalf of Arastan, I had found that in this tiny country locked away in the Caucasus, the pomegranate is a much-loved, ubiquitous symbol that augurs fertility, abundance, and prosperity. It was everywhere, from friezes carved in medieval khachkars, to tabletop ornaments, to cheap fridge magnets sold at the airport.

Without trying very hard I began to notice the …

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Stitches and Loops: Suzani Embroidery in Central Asia

Vintage Kazakh Suzani

It all started a long, long time ago. Sewing is the oldest of the textile arts, beginning in the Palaeolithic era. Before spinning yarn and weaving fabric were even imagined, Stone Age people across Europe and Asia sewed fur and skin clothing using bone, antler or ivory needles, and thread made of various animal body parts such as sinew, catgut, and veins.

Very inventive and resourceful! Here’s another example of sartorial ingenuity: in ancient Japan, traditional clothing was often sewn together with loose chain stitches that were removed so that the clothing could be taken apart and the assorted pieces laundered separately.

From being a necessity, sewing eventually evolved into an art form, in the shape of decorative embroidery for homes and garments. Over millennia, decorative embroidery came to be valued in various cultures worldwide. Stitching methods originating in different cultures are known throughout the world today. Some examples are …

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Nomadic Carpets from Iran: Qashqai, Lurs, and Bakhtiari

A jumble of mini-motifs

Whatever interest I have in oriental rugs, whatever knowledge I have gained about them, whatever research and travel I have undertaken to seek them—I owe it all to a Qashqai carpet. My wife bought it in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (after haggling mercilessly, like a good Indian, with a not-so-wily Turkish salesman) because she liked its unusual patterns and sanguine colours, and brought it home without knowing much else about it.

I eyed it with skepticism at first, as I do all my wife’s profligate purchases, complaining that the colours were too dark and uniform, and that the multitude of small motifs in the medallion were indistinct and messy. But in fact it started to grow on me very quickly, perhaps because of this very oddness, this lack of clean, recognizable figures, this disorderliness that makes it so tribal. I was particularly intrigued by the quirky scarab motifs in the corners, …

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Daizangi Kilims from Afghanistan

Afghan Daizangi Kilim

Another day at Arastan: a new tribal rug arrives, we learn about another weaving technique, we are awed again by a brilliant skill. Today’s splendid new product is the Daizangi kilim from Afghanistan.

Though often confused with Berjista or Mashwani Nakhunak kilims, Daizangi kilims in fact constitute a genre apart.

The Daizangi are a Hazara tribe from western Afghanistan, living mostly in Badghis and Herat provinces. Daizangi women typically weave on their own looms in village homes, using designs common to their tradition, but also adjusted to suit the requirements of modern rug traders.

Like other Afghan tribal weavers, they incorporate multiple weaving techniques in each rug. Most frequently they combine a background made with weft wrapping (sometimes known as plain soumak) with design elements in knotted pile.

The precision required to make small design elements in knotted pile dictates an unusually high knot count for tribal rugs, up to …

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Inspired by Nature. Designed for Today.

Karen Orchid Necklace

Karen Silver Jewellery: necklaces, pendants, earrings and rings. Highly individualistic, superbly crafted, finely designed – each piece a conversation stopper! Hand-crafted by the Karen hill tribe, this silver jewellery combines aspects of their native culture and natural environment with modern designs, styled for the woman of today.  And you can practically see evidence of each piece having been formed by the hands of a Karen craftsman. These pieces are not usually hallmarked in any way, but there is absolutely no doubt as to their origins or authenticity. Because, only the Karen can make silver jewellery this beautiful!

The Karen People

The Karen hill tribes are from amongst Thai and Burmese hill tribes, originally from Tibet, and whose ancestry can be traced back to the 12th century AD. The largest group from around 20 hill tribes, the Karen population presently numbers over seven million spread across the Union of Myanmar (Burma) …

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A World in Miniature

Kamancheh Player, painting from Hasht Behesht Palace, Isfahan, 1669

The historic, colourful and bustling city of Jaipur, Rajasthan, is home to some remarkable artists who are repositories of that ancient skill: the painting of miniatures. Miniatures that have found their way around the world! And, thanks to my meeting with one such extraordinary individual, a selection of Jaipur Miniatures now graces the display cases at Arastan.

It is no exaggeration to say, that every time I see a miniature, I am taken by surprise!

Its size never ceases to amaze me. Then there’s the intricate detail – down to the last, delicate eyelash resting on a rosy cheek. The smooth, flowing lines of the human body, a bird’s wings, a horse going full tilt. Vibrant, vivid colours – picked out in burnished (in fact 24 karat!) gold and sparkling silver.

Amazing! And to think that the Indian miniature is an art form that can be traced back to about …

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Bordering on the Infinite: Border Motifs in Oriental Carpets

The running dog pattern above and below a Bergama border

If you read my first, tentative post about carpet motifs, you may remember that I promised a follow-up dedicated exclusively to border motifs. My attempt at compiling a comprehensive glossary of border motifs, however, very quickly ran into a wall. There are countless border motifs out there in that jungle that is the world of oriental carpets, and many of them have multiple interpretations and variants. No wonder that no-one has bothered to publish a simple, helpful compendium of border patterns. It would be a mind-boggling and thankless task.

Out of the galaxy of border motifs that can be found in oriental rugs, I have chosen just a few, because they are either common and worth knowing, or because they are simply cool to look at. This short list, therefore, is not by any means exhaustive. It is just a beginning, an elementary text to jump-start your own motif-hunting expedition.

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Alisher Nazirov (Master Ceramist from Rishtan)

Alisher Nazirov

Alisher Nazirov is one of Uzbekistan’s most famous ceramists. He works from his studio-cum-workshop in Rishtan, a small town in the verdant Fergana valley, which is virtually an open air museum and visited by ceramic lovers from the world over.

Born in 1958, Alisher began working with ceramics at the tender age of 12, under the tutelage of several ustos or master craftsmen. He learnt to extract the secret ishkor glaze and supplemented his understanding with studies of archaeological finds. It has been his endeavour to restore traditional forms and patterns of Rishtan ceramics while giving free hand to innovation, the hallmark of creativity.

Today, Alisher has a well-recognised style, compositionally rich yet elegant and harmonious. His painting is inspired by direct observations from nature, and this is amply showcased in his designs which depict flowers, branches, trees and pitchers, among other things. His skillful compositions beautifully emphasize the shape of the objects he …

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    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

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