Himachal Pradesh is no doubt one of the most beautiful places in India. The breathtaking scenic beauty of the place adorned by a variety of trees and plants is, more often than not, overwhelming. And this scenic beauty is companioned by its relaxing temperate location in India.
However, what we are going to talk about today is not the scenic beauty of the geographical location of the place. In this article, we will touch upon another aspect of Himachal Pradesh, for which is it famous. The woodcraft of this northeastern mountainous part of India.
The Importance of Woodcraft in Himachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh has a long history of having the finest woodcarvers and artisans in the country. This springs from the fact that Himachal Pradesh’s architecture, both household and institutional, is heavily dependent on softwood.
Beautifully carved wooden doors of houses with pictures of Hindu deities on them and the borders decorated by carvings of vines and flowers is a common sight. Windows, balcony panels, and wood panels are also among the other items that are decorated with such precision work. Roofs, rooftop edges, and windows of temples decorated with beautiful designs are also not uncommon.
Thus, it is not surprising that many kids growing in such a surrounding genuinely take up the craft and hone their skills to further the long tradition of wood-crafting.
Trees of pine, deodar, horse chestnut, mulberry, and walnut, outline the whole scenery of Himachal Pradesh and also serve as the main resource for such wonderous woodworks. And the main areas that have earned a name for themselves for the same include Chamba, Kinnaur, Kullu, Tisa, and Kalpa. Among them, the remote areas of Kinnaur and Kullu offer the best works of such craft for tourists to see.
The Unique Style of Dharmashala
One region apart from the already mentioned places where a different kind of woodwork can be seen is Dharmashala, Himachal Pradesh. The unique woodcraft that is practised here draws its inspiration from the Tibetan style of woodcarving. And the items made using this style are specially created for the household.
Interior products such as statues, boxes, musical instruments, altars, and picture frames, among many others, are the main creations of this style. The wood used for this purpose under this craft form is mainly Khari and Chilpine, along with the occasional use of other types of softwood.
The factors such as plasticity, durability, and ease of carving are what decides which ones are to be selected for the work. The varnishing, painting, and lacquering, which is another highly specialized aspect of this work, has a distinct colour scheme and style of Buddhist monasteries.
The tools used for this style prevalent in Dharmashala are also a bit different from those used in other places. They are essentially traditional tools and are made locally to be used for the process. Bamboo fret saw named ‘bah’, wooden mallet, and sharpening stone called ‘jamdar’, and chisels and gouges are a few tools among many others.
Wooden Crafts in the Temples of Himachal Pradesh
Apart from the wooden structures seen at houses of the mountainous people, the temples spread across Himachal Pradesh are also a testimony of the long tradition of wood carving of the region. Special care is taken while carving structures for a temple as each panel and door of such temples hold a symbolic meaning which is essential for the devotees and the temple itself. The sculptures more often than not being of Hindu deities and made in strict adherence to iconographic tenets for immediate recognition.
A fascinating fact about such sculptures, made for the temples, is that no concept of beauty or ugliness exists for them. The sole purpose of the structures is to be precisely symbolical. And this is so that they can create an ambience of spiritual worship which is important for people who carry an unflinching devotion. The wood used in this case is deodar and sometimes teak.
A common form that can be seen is the use of a single cylindrical piece of wood for carving the whole figure of the deity. This gives rise to a three-dimensional effect of the sculpture. The woodcarvers put a lot of effort into keeping the wood grains intact while designing such beauties.
The history of this tradition of wood-crafting for the structures of temples is untraceable. This is because no dated work can be found among the numerous statues and sculptures seen in such places of worship. However, closer inspection of the different pieces of work by the newer generations and the older ones reveal interesting patterns. These patterns prove that tradition runs deep within these mountainous carpenters and the flow of the same has been kept intact down the generations.
This preservation of tradition and keeping it strong in the face of changes in the outside world has also been made possible due to the unwavering faith of these people in the mystical. And accompanied by the fact that remote mountainous areas such as villages and towns are generally impervious to outside influence and change. Thus, the tradition thrives to date with the woodcarvers working with mythologies and legends as their inspiration and the wooden pieces in front of them as their canvas of ideas.
Wooden Relief Panels as a Symbol for Fulfillment of Wishes
A different type of wood panel can also be seen in many temples, kept on the verandas or balconies. These wooden panels carry a different design, one that is not concerned with deities, but the everyday lives of people.
Beautified in these panels, the lives of the populace also seem to hold some mystical meaning. The scenarios of the day-to-day lives of the folk are portrayed in such a way in these relief panels that individual pieces play together to form a harmonious whole. As such less importance is paid to the anatomical structures or the clothes because here again the goal is to get a spiritual message across than to beautify an individual character.
These panels are offered by the commoners to the temples to convey the message that their wishes have been fulfilled.