The history of handicrafts in Darjeeling began in 5th century AD as Gorkhas knew that to prove their existence they need to define their work and refine the art. Gorkhas moved from mountains to Darjeeling in early 19th century and when they arrived they brought a significant culture with them which they began expressing through their handicrafts and metal works. The handicrafts in Darjeeling as a whole is much diversified as communities living within different sub divisions and blocks of Darjeeling is inhabited by different culture so there specific set of pattern that differentiates the work between Gorkhas and other communities. The culture though blur due to lack of initiative from government is still the most significant part of Darjeeling tradition and work of artisans is solely loved and appreciated by foreign travelers.
Importance of handicraft
The hills of Darjeeling is inhabited by numerous ethnic groups and to separate their identity, arts and culture, handicraft and handloom becomes a main source so traveler can expect to see wide kind of varieties as far as handicraft is concern. The group of artisans and skill workers could be
seen working in many emporiums and private sectors of handicraft, the importance could be trace via record of exports. In large numbers the work and ethics of Darjeeling is exported to various countries and handicraft companies working with it deal with the consignment which in turn allows people to earn good amounts from their counterpart.
Traditional Handicrafts of the Gorkha’s
As said above the traditional handicraft work began in 5th century AD, when Gorkha community walk the distance of Darjeeling from their homeland Nepal, they had so much to share as Himalayan Kingdom was home to heritage of art and handicraft. The most acceptable traditional items could be divided into metal work by Gorkha Artisan, metal craft and non metal work.
Metal Work by Gorkha Artisan
The influence could be trace from religious code as people would see large statue of lord Buddha and Lord Shiva beside that secular themes is carried out by metal artisans while crafting the beauty of figurine, the metal works carried by Gorkha people is largely concentrated with religious pantheon where as metal crafts accounts the large section of silver and brass jewelries. The most significant metal work is a mould of Traditional Nepali Kukri, the short weapon made by specific caste of Nepali. Other absolute metal works by Gorkha community include brass jewellery, earings, pendants and chains.
Non-metal Crafts by Gorkhali Artisans
Non metal work includes an excellence of woodwork, wood craft and textile. Indian Nepali living in Darjeeling is expert in textile oriented crafts, embroidery works, beads in saris, blanket, mats, bags, traditional attire, etc are some of the important non metal craft beside that work of bamboo in making Mura, sofas, beds, huts etc comes into picture as you would understand it in deep and ideal way.
Traditional Handicrafts of the Tibetan Artisans
Tibetan refugees living in Darjeeling are maestro of handicrafts and they deal both in metallic and non metallic works, like their Gorkha counterpart, they traveled a distance from Mansarovar to settle here in different regions of Darjeeling and to save their community from a course of extinction, they carried their work of handicraft in much expected way. The handicraft work defines their heritage beside that it has been classified into Metal work and non metal crafts.
Metal Work by Tibetan Artisans is indeed of high order and decree; the works are subject to either decorative or ritualistic. The metal work includes statues, decorative kettles, stones, curio work etc. Beside that non metal work is more wide and dimensional as most of the Tibetan women’s are engaged in non metallic works which include woodwork, masks, scrolls, shawls, scarves etc. carpets and rugs could be considered as main non metallic work beside that religious Thangka paintings and silk work is an exceptional craft practiced by Tibetans.
Metal handicrafts made by Tibetan craftsmen are indeed of high order. These objects of arts can either be decorative or ritualistic. While shopping in Darjeeling one can find hundreds of statues, decorative kettles, prayer wheels et cetera lined up on the shelves of different shops and emporiums. Different types of jewelries embedded with stones are also very popular items.
Handicrafts made by the Lepcha Artisans
Bamboo work by community of Lepcha is special; the quality of bamboo works could be seen in their blood as they inherited it from past and still going on with great precision and accuracy, the Lepcha people who believed to have travelled from Sikkim like Tibetan and Gorkha people expressing their culture through handicraft. Beside that needle work is another important mark they are good at embroidery work done by Lepcha women is exceptional and bamboo huts, bamboo pipe, hats, mura, etc are some of the important marks of Lepcha Tradition.