India Gifts: Rich in Cultural Diversity

India gifts reflect regional, cultural
and religious diversity, plus artistic and
crafting techniques that are unique to India.

India's long history alternates between unified empires and fragmented kingdoms. Let's take a very quick look, then on to gift suggestions.

About India

The Hindu religion and culture in India date to as early as 1500 BC, and Buddhism and Jainism to the 6th century BC. Islam arrived with Turkic, Afghan and Persian invasions and a string of of Islamic sultanates, beginning around 1200.

The Mughal (Mongol) empire united most of India under Islamic rule in the 16th and 17th centuries. The arts flourished during this period, which also saw the building of the Taj Mahal.

The influence of Mughal/Islamic design is seen in many contemporary India gifts and paintings. Hindu and Buddhist traditions also find expression in sculptures and other India gifts.

Below are links to gifts from various regions of the country, some of which represent art forms and techniques found only in India.

India Gift Suggestions

Hundreds of beautiful, handcrafted India gifts can be found at NOVICA. In association with National Geographic, Novica follows Fair Trade practices which benefit the artisan, the environment, and the customer.

Unique to India is Bidriware, which originated in Bidar, located just about at the center of India. The basic craft was introduced from Persia, but Bidriware is an Indian innovation said to date back to the Bahmani Sultanate in the 14th and 15th Centuries.

Bidri art consists of pure silver inlay on black metal, an alloy of zinc and copper. The design is hand engraved; next, the inlay is applied. Finally, the piece is blackened in a process that does not affect the silver, and the contrast is beautiful. Examples of Bidri Art are found on bowls, vases, and jewelry boxes.

India gifts made of marble with inlaid gemstones feature graceful floral designs. Decorative plates are popular India gifts, along with inlaid marble boxes that are perfect for storing small treasures.

Other marble gifts feature painting instead of inlays. Here is a magnificent hand painted vase, ornately decorated with 22K gold leaf in a colorful floral design.

Wood carvings showcase the impressive skills of India's artists. Buddhist and Hindu traditions inspire hand carved sculptures and statuettes. And here is a self-taught carver who also produces exquisite sandalwood and karamwood jewelry boxes, chess sets and other games.

Jali, or open/pierced work (as in lattice), is often worked in stone and is widely used in Indian architecture. Jali worked in various materials is also featured in India gifts. An award-winning artisan offers finely crafted jars, boxes and figurines featuring jali (we love the mother owl with the little owlet inside).

Sanjhi is cut paper art with a special India flavor. In folk tradition, sanjhis are wall decorations, part of a seasonal ritual for unmarried girls. As folk ritual merged with Hindu traditions, Sanjhi evolved into a devotional art form - floor designs (rangoli) were rendered on earthen platforms, using stencils (sanjhi) and colored powders. Only a few temples still create these Sanjhis.

But Sanjhi cut paper stencils are used in the design of fabric (e.g., for borders), stationery and so on. The sanjhis/stencils themselves are lovely India gifts, either mounted and framed as art pieces, or as part of a functional item. This artist's wooden trays, for example, are decorated with a sanjhi that is protected under a panel of glass.

India Textiles come from the industrialized Gujarati region on the northwest coast. Scores of regional, tribal and community artisan groups support hundreds of Indian families and assist victims of natural disasters via the textile arts - weaving, embroidery and so on. Some examples:

  • Cotton wall hangings with symmetrical or abstract patchwork designs, and loops for a hanger. Your recipient will be proud to display one of these India gifts.

  • The Self Employed Women Association (SEWA) from Gujarat and several other artisan organizations offer beautiful cushion covers. Table linens, blankets and throws are found in the drop down menu at the upper left.

  • For an extra bit of sparkle, zari brocade contains thin gold and silver threads. Zari brocade is used with many textile objects including clothing, table linens, wall hangings, and decorative panels for wooden trays and boxes.

Pashmina Shawls from Kashmir are luxurious India gifts made of the finest wool from Himalayan mountain goats. Comparable to cashmere, pashmina is soft, light, and exceptionally warm. NOVICA brings us handwoven pashmina scarves in a large selection of patterns and colors.

Original Paintings - from NOVICA's Tribal Collection come Madhubani paintings, rooted in ancient times when legends were actually being lived. Also called Mithila, the region today is known as northern Bihar, bordering Nepal. Madhubani paintings use natural dyes on handmade paper, with symmetrical designs and spaces filled with flowers or geometric figures.

Designs in the Mughal style grace many India gifts, from plates to vases, boxes to stools, chairs to mirrors... and of course, miniature paintings.

NOVICA brings us hundreds of India paintings, categorized by style - abstract, expressionist, floral, still life, and many others. Here is a link to the abstract paintings, then you can use the drop-down search box (top, under the Taj Mahal picture) to move to other styles.

Let's Talk about Rugs

There's an important distinction between hand-knotted and hand-tufted rugs. Hand-tufted rugs are made with a tool that punches strands of wool through a backing to form loops. The tops of the loops are cut to form tufts for the pile, and a piece of sturdy fabric is glued over the back of the rug. It is this glue that holds the tufts in place on the backing.

On a hand-knotted rug, the strands of wool are wound around the warps of the rug backing. The knotted rug is more firmly constructed, and can be expected to wear better over time (and to cost more) than a hand-tufted rug. The more "knots per inch," the better the rug's quality.

Interesting textures are produced by varying the size of fibers in the weave. For example, a tight weave with a smooth look and feel is obtained with wool and jute, whereas hemp and jute produces a more textured rug.

The Panjadari style adds a hand embroidered pattern to a solid-color hand loomed dhurrie (flat-woven) rug. The embroidery adds texture and depth to the design.

From Kashmir come chain-stitched rugs: wool stitching over a cotton canvas backing. This technique is well suited to a curvy pattern, but just as effective with a more intricate traditional motif or a bold contemporary design with large blocks of color.

An India gift from NOVICA will please your recipient AND make a positive difference in the life of the artisan. My shopping experience with National Geographic has always been first-rate, and I feel sure yours will be, too.

India gifts lend a contemporary flavor
to handicrafts as old as time,
making them as modern as today!

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