Shopping is an adventure of a vibrant kind in India. Like some other aspects of India, its shopping experience is full of contrasts. Here chaotic and irresistable medieval shops in narrow bylanes with a churning mass of cyclists, buses and deafening honks of fast paced cars rub shoulders with sprawling modern shopping malls. Visitors can carry home a slice of India's multi faceted culture that thrives on its pulsating streets and malls. Dynamic satin cloth embroideries, roadside kitsch of grotesque leather masks and brilliant brass idols vie with ropes of bewildering beads and bells exhilarating array of enamel work. The explosion of colours and pageant is sure to take one's breadth away.
India's potpourri of shopping choices include vivacious garments, textiles, metalware, jewellery, furniture, brass, silver, copper, gold, silks and brocades, leather goods, carpets and an unending list of buys. Although the best bargains are available in regions producing the specific handicraft, most products are available in major metros of New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkatta, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. The uninitiated traveller, not familiar with the ethos of the Indian market concept will find governemnt owned Central Cottage industries Emporia an apt introduction to the handicrafts of India.
Sharpen your bargaining skills
Read about India before leaving. This will give a better understanding of its social milieu. Check with your hotel about shopping hours and closing days before you set out to shop. Major cities have government emporiums with fixed prices and quality goods. They may sometimes be a bit more expensive than roadside shops but are reliable. Every city has a local baazar. Bargaining is a routine. Compare prices before bargaining for an item. You could start your research at the fixed price government emporiums.
Establish goodwill. Never insult the merchant. Let the seller (shopkeeper)make the first offer. Using odd numbers as Rs 550/- for example may lead the merchant to think you are a seasoned shopper. Start a 40 percent discount from the asking price. Your next offer should be 35 percent less and probably will end up in a deal.
Carpets of silk and cotton have been popular exports dating back to centuries. Even today plush silk carpets, perfected under Mughal design sensibilities are great take a aways. Fine knotted cotton durries as well as sturdy rugs and Islamic prayer rugs or kilims from Rajasthan are good value for money.
Light weight durries (floor coverings) are available in numerous styles. The states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan (woollen durries), Uttar Pradesh (Geometrical patterns) are important weaving centres. Pile carpets were introduced from Iran to Kashmir in the 15th century. Here carpet making follows the shawl weaving tradition, its designs are based on Persian and Central Asian styles. Kashmir is also known for other types of floor coverings known as Namdas. Hook rugs and Gabbas, Namdas are made of felted wool and cotton and are embroideried with woollen chain stitches. The hook rugs is made with chain stitch embroidery worked with a hook called ahri. A thick jute cloth is embroideried fully so that the base material is not visible. The Gabba is an applique done on worn out woollen blankets.
Carpets produced in Agra and Amritsar have fine quality patterns on a red, ivory, green and black background. Jaipur in Rajasthan produces quality carpets, which vary from 80 knots to 120 knots per square inch. Most of them have geometric patterns. Mirzapur and Bhadoi also make quality carpet varieties. Andhra Pradesh produces geometrical patterned carpets of quality of around 30 to 60 knots per square inch.
Despite rapid industrialisation, most of the age old centres of handloom textiles continue to produce beautifully woven fabrics. Today silk is not just restricted to saris, it is also sold by yard. Indian silks are in great demand with foreign designers who use them extensively in fashion garments. Government and private outlets stock silks all over India. The heavier variety can be used for drapes and upholstery. A wide range of ladies and men's wear like dupattas, garments, fabrics, caps, handkerchiefs, scarves, dhotis, turbans, shawls, ghagras, lehangas, quilts, bedcovers, cushions, table cloth, curtains are made of silk. Brocade borders can be used imaginatively to design clothes, cushions and scarves.
Handlooms form the warp and weft of a region. Just as patols or ikat is distinctive to Andhra Pradesh, Kanchipuram sarees are associated with Tamil Nadu. Crepe de chine, gorgette, chiffon and soft silk with Karnataka and typical cream, gold bordered saris in cotton and silk with Kerala. Every part of India offers its own special variety of rich silk and its own individual colours and weaves. The bridal brocade saris sometimes embedded with semi precious stones and sparkling gold threaded beads from Benaras transform well into the modern apparel sensibility as stoles and scarves. Gold Muga silks from Assam make great yardage for dresses, as do the vibrant raw silks from Bangalore, the heart of India's sericulture trade.
Varanasi (formerly Banaras)(is one of the leading silk sari producing centres of India. It is known for its heavy gold-silver brocades for which hair-thin wires of gold are used with silk yarn for weaving. Amru silk, Jamvar, Navrangi (nine colours) and Jamdani are all brocades from Varanasi. Patola silk saris are the pride of Gujarat. These saris are created by using the resist dyeing technique. Patola sarees are of two kinds the Rajkot patola that is vertically resist dyed (single ikat), and Patan patola, horizontally resist dyed (double ikat). Patola saris are known for their flaming bright colours and geometric designs interspersed with folk motifs.
Paithani silk sarees from Maharashtra come in contrasting colour combinations. Paithanis are generally decorated with a gold dot or coin motif. Ganeshpur a village in Bhandara district in Mahrashtra is famous for Kosa silk (cocoon). In this village silk has been produced and exported ever since 1871.
The state of Madhya Pradesh is famous for Chanderi, Maheshwari and Tussar silk saris. Chanderi sari is known for its soft colours and the harmonious balance between the border and the body of the sari. These saris are also known for their contrasting colours and the depiction of animal and human figures on them. Maheshwari sari has elaborate patterns and border with exotic motifs sone in zari and plesant colours, both inspired by nature. Tussar silk or Kosa silk is valued for its purity and texture as its is available naturally in shades of gold pale, dark, honey, tawny, beige and cream. Tussar is a special variety of silk, as the cocoons are raised on Arjun and sal trees. Tussar silk is produced in Bihar.
Bomkai Sambalpuri saris from Orissa are in single and double ikat. In contrast to the ikats of Gujarat, these saris are sober in colour and decorated with curved forms. Murshidabad, West Bengal is home of the famous Baluchari saris. The Baluchar technique of weaving uses untwisted silk thread for weaving brocades. The pallu of this sari has patterns that resemble miniature paintings. Heavy silk saris from Tanjore, Kumbakonam and Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu are known for their broad decorative borders and contrasting colours. Saris from Kolegal and Molkalmoru in Karnataka have a simple ikat weave with parrot motif on the borders, the ikat always being white. Sangareddy and Dharmaswaram in Andhra Pradesh too, specialise in ikat silk weave.
Kamdanis are amongst the most exclusive of muslins. These muslins have lyrical names like Shabnam (evening dew), Malmal Khas(muslin reserved for kings) and Abrawan (flowing water). The base fabric for Jamdanis is unbleached cotton yarn and the design is woven using bleached cotton yarns so that a shadow effect is created. Venkatagiris are saris of the Jamdani technique with stylized motifs woven in half cotton and half gold threads. Ikat saris from Karnataka and Narayanpet textiles from Andhra Pradesh are sought after cotton textiles. Gadwal and Wanaparti produce materials of thick cotton, mostly in checks with a contrasting silk border and pallu worked in gold. Nander is famous for its fine quality cotton saris richly worked in gold thread with silk border. Bandhani materials are made using resist dyeing techniques popularly known as Tie and Dye . These patterns are commonly seen on long scarves, saris and turbans. The state of Gujarat and the princely land of Rajasthan have long been famous for practising their style. Kalamkari - The Coromandel Coast of India has been the source of some of the most beautiful floral designed cotton fabrics using brushes or pens. This painted cloth of south east India had been known as Pintado by the Portugese and Chintz by the English.
Every state of India showcases its products at fixed rates at the Cottage Industries Emporium in major cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai.
Avaliable are artefacts in bronze, brass, ivory, marble or wood, You'll find statues, lamp shades, chairs, delicate filigree work on ivory and silver, marble inlaid with precious coloured stones, enamel work kundan or meenakari jewellery of Rajasthan, silver from Orissa and pearls from Hyderabad. Brasswork from Jaipur, black stylized vases and urns from Pembarthi and the polished brass mirrors of Aranmula have today evolved into design statements. Everywhere in India one finds idols and statues in temples and on the streets. It was natural that sculpting skills be developed. The granite and bronze sculptures of South India have continued an unbroken lineage from the Chola period dating back a thousand years. The ever-popular Lord Ganesh, god of prosperity, assumes various forms in each state with innumerable materials from humble clay, stone to metal.
Marble sculptures are found mostly in the North and one can pick up a cornucopia of typical inlaid hand mouled jars, plates and latticed panels. Boxes, plaques, bowls in sandstone and soapstone can be picked up as you stroll along the colourful bazaars of South India's towns. Blue-black phyllite is used by carvers in Santhal-Parganas in Bengal. Art is eternal. From the primitive cave paintings of Bhimbetka, to the cubist influenced M.F Hussain, all hues of India show up in galleries and shops. An interesting buy are folk paintings from Madhubani, in which women paint symbolic fertility pictures with natural pigments.
The popularity of ceramics can be seen from the numerous categories and types one finds all over India. Functional, unsophisticated, simple but attractive pottery shapes lay an emphasis on the dignity of form. The most common clay object is the all purpose kullar (cup like container) used for serving water or tea, sometimes decorated with geometrical and floral designs. There are a variety of objects specially produced for festive occasions such as lamps for Diwali, toys for Dusshera, pots for seedlings at Sankranti and colourful kalash (pots) for marriages. Many products are also used for decoration and make great gifts. Some of which are Karigari (design) pottery, ashtrays, flower vases, tea sets, paper weights and decorative animal figures. Delhi is famous for its blue pottery that uses eye catching Persian blue dye to colour the clay. Blue pottery is glazed and high fired which makes it tougher than the others. Another version, the Jaipur blue pottery is unique. No cracks develop in it, making it impervious and more hygeine for daily use. Some of this pottery is semi-transparent and generally decorated with animal and bird motifs. Decorative items such as ashtrays, vases, coasters, small bowls and boxes for trinkets are made using paste and fired at very low temperatures.
Not readily available outside Bengal, but of interest to the visitor is the Mansa pottery of West Bengal. It represents the snake goddess and is a quaint, double curved pot with a face painted on it. Similarly the Dakshinirai pots, found in the Sunderbans area, are round pots with a mouth signifying a crown. An outlet of studio pottery is Valeries in West Bengal, producing semi handmade earthernware and glazed tableware in various mud tones. Khurja in Uttar Pradesh a three hour drive from Delhi is also well known for its cheap but tough tableware. Produced on a mass scale, fired at high temperature, these pottery items retain their mud colour and are in popular demand. Rajasthan pottery has certain distinct charateristics. The mouths of water pots are small, porbably to prevent spilling when water is being carried. Alwar is noted for its paper-thin pottery, known as kagzi (paper) pottery.
Goa's rich tradition, a blend of Indian and Portugese culture, has remained unique. This is best reflected in the arts and crafts fashioned by the hands of Goan artists. Simple yet intricately beautiful, abstract yet exquisite, these creations are a mirror of Goa's perennial glory and beauty. While in Goa one can shop at Goa Handicrafts Crafts Complex, Neugi Nagar, Rua de Ourem, Santacruz Road, Panaji.
Interesting buys are the black pottery and chillum (clay pipe) from Tamil Nadu. At Kottaikorai in Pondicherry, the slat glazed pottery has a texture of orange peel. Most of the painting is done before firing and most of the items are utilitarian starting with candle stands to water filters and tableware.
Indian furniture is regarded as prized because of its ethnic flavour. Traditional Indian woodcarvers continue to follow the style of their ancestors keeping traditional crafts alive. Among the regional specialties, nothing can outdo Rajasthan and Gujarathi wooddcraft. The antique look and intricate craftsmanship have kept the furniture in demand both in India and abroad. Carved and decorated chests, chairs, cradles, low tables and stools are hard to resist. Each object is pleasing, whether inlaid with brass sheet work, painted with dancing figures or embellished with hunting scenes. From Kishangarh comes painted furniture of creens, doors, caskets and chairs. The Regions of Ramgarh and Shekhawati specialize in ornamental wooden furniture with floral designs that adorn projected niches and balconies of houses. Barmer and Jodhpur produce the finest carved furniture in the state, which include windows, tables, beds, dining tables and chairs, sofa sets with centre tables, couches, cabinets, dressing tables, screens, bars, trolleys and other items of domestic use.
One can also find white metal furniture in the desert state. Metal furniture has come from royal families in India that clad some wooden furniture pieces with gold or silver sheets, especially for ceremonial purposes. The concept became popular and gradually the gold and silver was replaced by the white metal to make it economically viable. Papier mache popular is some parts of the country, has been put to skillful use by artisans in Rajasthan to manufacture unique and attractive looking pieces of furniture including chairs, couches, benches and seats, cabinets and container shelves. Sankheda from Gujarat is known for its colourful toys and wooden furniture. Other Gujarathi woodcrafted products include candle holders, decorative tableware, wooden fruit, nut and salad bowls, tray cum side table, dinner set, soup bowls and a range of cutlery.
Utilitarian and decorative items are made from can in different styles and motifs, of which baskets and mats are the most popular. Tripura and Bengal are famous for elegant screens and bamboo mats, are the most popular. Tripura and Bengal are famous for elegant screens and bamboo mats, made from split bamboo. Assam state with abundant raw material has a large variety of beautiful products like baskets, mugs for rice beer, hukkas, musical instruments and floor mats. Neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh excels in cane and bamboo work too, producing items such as cane belts. From Tamil Nadu comes the famed kora grass mats. The most delicate mats are made in Kerala where black and white square bamboo boxes are also made in the same tradition, making excellent gifts.
Different regions of india have jewellery traditions and styles unique to them. Popular styles that have passed on for centuries include fine filigree work in silver from Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, the art of enamelling or Meenakari from Jaipur, temple jewellery from Nagercoil and Kundan or the setting of semi precious or precious stones in gold from Delhi. Every Metro has a gold bazaar. A walk across Zaveri bazaar in Mumbai for instance will give you an idea of India's contemporary and classic jewellery traditions.
Chaste silver and gold, as well as precious stones, are great value for money in India. The emphasis is on heavy detailing. There are many jewelley centres specializing in local styles. In Northern India, the best work can be found in Jaipur, Kutch, Bikaner and Murshidabad. For a more contemporary look try Kutchikaam bangle or anklet the chunky embossed silver of Gujarat. You can also do rounds of flea markets and walk away with duplicate Meenakari enamelled necklaces, ornate gem studded armbands and genuine glass bangles in eye catching colours and designs.
Meenakari and Kundan are styles from Jaipur and Delhi influenced by the Mughals. The jewellery can be worn on both sides. The temple jewellery of Nagercoil has traditionals gold ornaments studded with red and green semi precious stones.In Assam soft 24 ct gold is fashioned into earings and necklaces modelled on local flora and fauna. For instance earings resembling the orchid. In Nagaland gold is used to craft imitations of the human head and long funnel shaped beads are used in combination with shells, animal claws and teeth and precious and semi precious stones. The designs in solid gold jewellery of Tamil Nadu and Kerala are inspired by nature. Silversmiths of Himachal Pradesh craft large delicate and intricate ornaments. Head dresses called chak long earrings and large nose rings with peepal leaf or bird motif are the specialities of the region. In Ladakh, silver charm boxes and head dresses called perak with rows of turquoise, cornelian, coral and agate stitched onto it, are a common sight.