Shilpgram, the image of a fading state and its culture

Maharajas and the royal families of Rajasthan are known for their fondness with regards to art and craft. They were prominent patrons of art and therefore encouraged artisans across the state. Many of these communities of artisans were nomadic, they traveled from place to place displaying their craftsmanship.

In 1989, Rajiv Gandhi inaugurated Shilpgram with an aim to celebrate and in an attempt to preserve age old traditions and culture of indigeous communities of Rajasthan. Shilpgram, which translates to “village of artisans'', is spread over 70 acres on the immediate outskirts of Udaipur, surrounded by Aravali hills. The village consists of huts inspired by the local settlements found in several Indian states. Components ranging from tiles to sand were brought in from respective states, some of them being Nagaland, Gujarat, parts of Rajasthan, Maharashtra etc. Made by two art students, it houses an Ashok Stambh made of soil from over 20 states of India.

Shilpgram was founded as a living ethnographic museum, making interaction with local artists an experience accessible to visitors. One could walk around the complex, cross Manganiyars playing khartal, buy some cotton candy, sit by potters making clay vessels, watch acrobats from the Nat community showcase their skills. This place is decorated and turned into a buzzing fair for 10 days every year in December. Shilpgram Festival, formerly known as Surajkund Festival, is an occasion that brings together artists and artisans from all over India to perform, display their craft and sell items ranging from local musical instruments, clothes to locally made everyday products.

Shilpgram provides a glimpse into what rural Rajasthan could have been, and keeps alive the art which is central to Rajasthan’s heritage. Vilas Janwe, the first and former Director of Shilpgram, understands that it may not be the same today as it was until some years ago. He says,

“Unlike earlier, now huts have been barricaded and it has been made to be like a common museum. This has largely been done to protect these sensitive structures, and the elaborate work done on them, from damage by visitors. The Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for keeping places like Shilpgram in good condition are under a lot of pressure and low on budget. It is sad that the government banks on traditional art forms of the state but discounts hardworking artists and artisan community.”

Shilpgram only increases in value with indegenous knowledge and art gradually losing significance in an ever fast and booming society where development has come to mean leaving heritage behind.