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Ladakh Arts and Crafts

There is little tradition of artistic craftsmanship in Ladakh. Most of the luxury articles in the past have been obtained through imports. The exception is the village of Chiling, about 19 kms. up the Zanskar river from Nima. Here, a community of metal workers, said to be the descendants of artisans brought from Nepal in the mid 17th century, build one of the gigantic Buddha images at Shey and carry on their hereditary work. Working on silver,

Ladakh Arts

brass and copper, they produce exquisite items for domestic and religious use like tea and chang pots, teacup stands and lids, hookkah bases, ladles, bowls and, occasionally, silver chorten for installation in temples and domestic shrines.

Those who cannot afford the expensive ware of the Chiling craftsmen, use bowls and cooking pots they need for everyday use, and agricultural implements as supplied by local blacksmiths (gara). The gara also make the large and ornate iron stoves seen in kitchens of the richer Ladakhi homes. In general, craftsmanship has not developed beyond the production of everyday items for personal and domestic use. Pattu, the rough, warm, woolen material used for clothing is made from locally produced wool, spun by women on drop-spindles, and woven by semi-professional weavers on portable looms set up in the winters, or under the shade of a tree in summers. Baskets are used for the transport of any kind of things like manure for the fields, fresh vegetables and even to carry babies. The baskets are woven out of willow twigs, or particular variety of grass. Wood work is confined largely to the production of pillars and carved lintels for the houses, and the low carved tables that are a feature of every Ladakhi living-room.


Many such items, together with others which were recently introduced as part of the development process, are available in the District Handicrafts Centre at Leh, which exists to train local people as well as to market their products. There you can find, in addition to traditional objects, a few special items like Pashmina shawls which are very rough as compared with soft and warm shawls produced in Srinagar and carpets whose designs and techniques were borrowed from Tibet. Similar carpets are also to be had at the Tibetan Refugee Centre at Choglamsar. The Handicrafts

Ladakh Handicraft Workshop

Centre also has a department of Thangka painting. These icons on cloth were executed in accordance with strict guidelines handed down from past generations. In the same tradition are the mural paintings in the gompas, where semi-professional, both monks and laymen, labour to keep the walls decorated with images symbolizing the various aspects of the Buddhist Way. The skill of building religious statues is also not extinct. The gigantic representation of Maitreya, was installed in Thiksey Gompa as recently as the early 1980's.


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