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Indian Textiles and Handicrafts: A Legacy of Skill and Tradition

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  29-Feb-2024 | Tanmaya Kshirsagar


Cultural heritage is a defining characteristic of India and the textile and handicrafts industry is an essential part of the cultural legacy. As much as it represents a cultural identity of the nation, the textiles and handicraft sphere has also been a source of livelihood for millions of artisans. They thus represent the diversity, vibrancy, and richness of Indian culture, and are appreciated and admired by people worldwide.

India is a land of rich and diverse textile traditions, with each state having its own unique craft and style. The Indian textile industry has also been influenced by cultural and historical events, such as the Mughal era, the British Raj, the Indian freedom movement, and contemporary trends. Both the domains of textile and handicraft work reflect the uniqueness of the skill and the firm foundation of legacy rooted in tradition, which glorifies the versatility of the Indian heritage.

A Glimpse into the Vast Heritage

Textiles are materials made from natural or synthetic fibers, such as cotton, silk, wool, jute, etc., that are woven, knitted, crocheted, or felted into fabrics or garments. Some of the iconic textile crafts of India are Dabu, Indigo, Kalamkari, Banarasi, Ajrak, Ikat, Bagh, Kantha, Chanderi, Chikankari, Bandhani, Phulkari, Patola, Pashmina, and Khadi. These crafts involve various techniques of weaving, dyeing, printing, painting, embroidering, and embellishing fabrics with natural or synthetic materials. Each craft has its own story, symbolism, and aesthetic appeal, reflecting the creativity and skill of the artisans.

Handicrafts in India are diverse and unique forms of art and craft that are made by hand or with simple tools. Handicrafts in India include products such as pottery, woodwork, metalwork, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, toys, and more. They are often used for functional, decorative, religious, or aesthetic purposes. The textile industry can be considered as amalgamated into the larger umbrella of the handicraft industry as well.

History and Origin

Indian textiles and handicrafts have a long and rich history that dates back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, one of the world's earliest civilizations. The excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro revealed the presence of cotton fabrics, dye vats, spindle whorls, needles, and figurines wearing decorated robes, indicative of an advanced knowledge of textile production and use.

India's textiles were also influenced by the cultural and historical interactions with various regions of the world, such as Persia, Greece, China, Central Asia, and Europe. Some of the famous textile crafts of India also have their origins in the ancient and medieval periods.

The Characteristic Skills and Legacy

Artisans in the textile and handicraft industry possess a rich tapestry of skills that blend tradition, creativity, and craftsmanship.

Mastering of distinctive weaving styles influenced by regional, environmental, and cultural factors by artisans, to create intricate fabrics, carpets, rugs, and textiles using handlooms. The use of techniques like block printing, batik, and tie-and-dye are part of their repertoire. Artisans decorate fabrics with exquisite needlework, employing various stitches while their embroidery skills breathe life into clothing, cushion covers, and curtain cloths. Similarly, the elaborate skillset employed in the handicraft industry is also equally brilliant.

The woodworkers skillfully carve intricate designs, creating wooden artifacts, furniture, and sculptures. The stone artisans chisel and shape stones into sculptures, idols, and architectural elements. Potters mold clay into functional and decorative pottery items like vases, bowls, and plates. Ceramic artists glaze and fire clay to produce delicate ceramics and tiles. Metal artisans forge and shape metals (such as brass, copper, and silver) into jewelry, utensils, and decorative pieces. Jewelry makers craft intricate adornments, incorporating gemstones and filigree work. Leatherworkers create bags, belts, shoes, and accessories using tanning, stitching, and embossing techniques while the Jute artisans weave eco-friendly bags, mats, and home decor items from natural jute fibers.

Systematic Categorisation and Types

The textile and handloom industry in India is divided into four zones based on the regional distribution of handloom weaving:

  • East Zone (EZ): This zone comprises the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam, and other northeastern states. This zone is known for its silk, cotton, and jute products, such as sarees, shawls, carpets, and mats.
  • West Zone (WZ): This zone includes the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. This zone is famous for its tie-and-dye, block printing, and embroidery techniques, as well as its woolen and cotton products, such as bandhani, leheriya, kutch work, and bagh prints.
  • North Zone (NZ): This zone covers the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, and Jammu and Kashmir. This zone is renowned for its brocade, chikan, phulkari, and kashida work, as well as its woolen and silk products, such as banarasi, jamawar, and pashmina.
  • South Zone (SZ): This zone encompasses the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. This zone is distinguished by its ikat, kalamkari, and kasuti work, as well as its silk and cotton products, such as kanjeevaram, baluchari, and pochampally.

Contemporary Developments in the Industry

The textile and handicraft industry employs millions of artisans and craftsmen, especially in rural and semi-urban areas, and contributes significantly to the country’s exports and economy. In recent years, the industry has witnessed several changes and challenges, such as the impact of globalization, technological innovations, changing consumer preferences, environmental concerns, and competition from other countries. However, the industry has also shown resilience and adaptability and has leveraged its strengths and opportunities to grow and flourish.

The government has launched various schemes and programmes to promote and develop the textile and handicraft sector, such as the Handicrafts Mega Cluster Mission, the Ambedkar Hastshilp Vikas Yojana, the Scheme of Fund for Regeneration of Traditional Industries, the National Handloom Development Programme, and the Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme. These schemes aim to provide financial assistance, infrastructure development, skill development, marketing support, quality improvement, and innovation to the artisans and entrepreneurs in the sector.

The emergence of e-commerce and online platforms has opened up new avenues and markets for the textile and handicraft industry, both domestically and internationally. E-commerce platforms enable producers to showcase and sell their products to a wider and diverse audience, without intermediaries and middlemen. Online platforms also help in connecting the artisans and craftsmen with the consumers and buyers directly.

Technology and innovation have become indispensable for the textile and handicraft industry to enhance its productivity, quality, efficiency, and competitiveness. Technology helps in improving the design process, production, and packaging of the products, as well as in cost-cutting, wastage, and environmental impact. Innovation helps in creating, reviving, and preserving traditional and indigenous crafts and techniques.

In present times, the textile and handicraft industry has become more conscious and responsible towards the social and environmental aspects and has adopted various measures and practices to ensure the sustainability and ethicality of its raw materials, processes, and outputs. The industry has also taken steps to empower and uplift the artisans and craftsmen, especially the women and marginalized groups, by providing them with fair wages, social security, health care, education, and training.


The textile and handicraft industry is a vital and vibrant sector of the Indian economy and society and has a huge potential and scope for further growth and development. The industry has demonstrated its ability to adapt and innovate in the face of changing and challenging scenarios and create a niche and a brand for itself in the global market. It has also contributed to the preservation and promotion of the country’s rich and diverse cultural and artistic heritage and has enhanced the livelihood and well-being of the millions of artisans and craftsmen involved in it.