The Chamba Rumal or Chamba handkerchief is an embroidered handicraft that was once promoted under the patronage of the former rulers of Chamba kingdom.
It is a common item of gift during marriages with detailed patterns in bright and pleasing color schemes.
This product has been registered for protection under the Geographical indication of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
On 22 January 2007, it was listed as ‘Chamba Rumal’ under the GI Act 1999 of the Government of India.
For most of us, the humble cloth handkerchief is just another nondescript item of everyday use. Bearing a monogram or delicate design in a corner—these hankies are usually plain, perfect for the mundane act of wiping hands and faces.
But the Chamba Rumal (Rumal means handkerchief) is no ordinary hankie, and certainly too rare and precious to wipe your face with.
Patronised by the royalty of Himachal Pradesh, the Chamba Rumal is a fine display of Himalayan embroidery and crafts traditions.
The Chamba Rumal gets its name from Chamba, a hill-station in Himachal Pradesh, where it has been practised for centuries.
The earliest records of the region dates back to 2nd century BC, making it one of the most ancient destinations in the state.
The region is known for its history, architecture and landscapes but the local community is also known for its arts and crafts, in particular the miniature Pahari paintings.
Chamba Rumals are typically made in square or rectangular fabric of varying sizes. The base art, characterised by intricate lines, is traditionally drawn by miniature art experts. Once the art is complete, the embroidery—usually undertaken by women—is meticulously executed on the fabric.
In the 17th century, the Chamba Rumal embroidery was done by the queens and royal ladies of Chamba for wedding dowries, important gifts and ceremonial coverings.
The tradition gradually made its way out of palace walls and began to be practised by local craft clusters. The Rumals came to be an integral part of weddings, exchanged by the bride and groom’s families as a sign of goodwill.
However, from the 17th century the women of the erstwhile princely state of Chamba (now part of Himachal Pradesh), including members of the royal family, indulged in embroidery of the rumals or handkerchiefs as a part of a marriage gifts or dowry to their daughters.
The handkerchiefs were made in geometrical shapes of square and rectangle using very fine hand made silk which was obtained from the Punjab or muslin cloth, a product of Bengal.
Women created highly ornamental patterns using untwined thread made of silk produced in Sialkot (in Pakistan), Amritsar and Ludhiana.
The embroidery technique adopted, called the Dohara Tanka or double satin stitch, created distinct identical patterns on both faces of the fabric, which were attractive when viewed even from distance of 10 ft and more.
The Dohara Tanka method is a heritage of Kashmir, which was adopted in Basohli and Chamba, but was improved upon by adopting themes from the special Mughal art of Chamba miniature paintings; this art form flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Following the downfall of the Mughal empire many expert artists of this craft migrated to the hill region of Himachal Pradesh. Raja Umed Singh of Chamba (1748–68) patronized the artists.
These artists drew the outlines of the design on the fabric to be embroidered using fine charcoal.
They also suggested suitable colours to be adopted on the theological themes of Krishna‘s Raas-Leela of the epic Mahabharata, and themes from Ramayana or scenes of marriage and game hunting to be embroidered.
Inspiration was also provided from the frescoes done in the Rang Mahal of Chamba.
The women then executed the embroidery. In early 19th century, when Maharaja Ranjit Singh ruled over the Punjab Hill States, Sikh style of painting also influenced the Chamba Rumal.
A few YouTube videos on Chamba Rumal
“A country remains poor in wealth both materially and intellectually if it doesnot develop its handicrafts and its handicrafts & handloom industries. It lives a lazy parasitic life by importing all the manufactured articles from outside”.
~ Mahatma Gandhi