Summer weekends, when searing temperatures force me to stay indoors, I always long to visit places of attractions in my vicinity, especially those that inspire me to travel more. Jaipur has given me one such opportunity. I walked in to the Alankar Museum in Jawahar Kala Kendra in the first weekend of May 2014. I was lucky. The museum was open for some maintenance work. The guard-cum-receptionist allowed me to browse and photograph the exhibits that speak volumes about Rajasthani lifestyle, craftspeople and their contribution to the world of art.
For instance, the museum displays what was once the largest wooden spoon in the world. The spoon measuring 12.19 metres (40ft) in length and 1.07 metres (3 ft 6 in) in width found place in the Guinness World Records in 2010.The spoon was crafted by Manmohan Agarwal and Nishant Choudhary of Jaipur-based Garima Foundation and displayed in the museum in June 2012. The spoon with a disproportionately long handle hangs on five wooden hooks in the centre of the ground floor.
However, Centrul Cultural Mioveni, Romania broke this record in June 2013 and earned a place in the Guinness World Records. It designed a 58 feet and 4.39 inches (17.79 meters) long wooden spoon. The widest point measures 4.11 feet (1.50 meters). The largest wooden spoon was inspired by a traditional spoon from Romania.
Traditional decorative items of porcelain painted in blue, green, pink, and yellow colours are displayed behind glass doors. The themes consist of figures of local heroes, floral motifs, geometrical patterns, and inscriptions. For example, a 20th century circular platter depicts Devnarayanji, a semi-divine figure, on a horseback.
The metal craft section presents an eclectic collection of daily use objects, decorative pieces, and means of transport: a bijani / pankhi (hand-held fan), bread container, small bullock cart, a camel statue much smaller than the real animal and wooden boxes in various shapes and sizes. The importance of the fan has dramatically changed from a necessity in the past to a decorative item in modern time. A pair of 20th century white metal bijanis from Udaipur embodies the repoussé technique. The jali or lattice framework of the bijanis is adorned with floral patterns. The decorations on the wooden boxes range from simple plants embossed on the exterior to complete stories.
The wooden figures of Isar-Gangor (Shiva and Parvati), venerated by women during the Gangaur festival, are known for their big open eyes and round faces. Many of these figures are crafted in Bassi (Chittorgarh) that is home to wooden toy industry. The Bassi carpenters also design masks and kavads (portable shrines) using doodhi, a light wood with fine texture. Figures of bhopas and bhopans, the priests and priestesses who sing religious songs and narrate stories revolving around divine and semi-divine figures, are also aptly displayed in the Gangor showcase. These balladeers use visual aids such as kavads and phad-chitras (painted scrolls) while narrating the stories.
The next thing that caught my attention is a group of six wooden figures of folk musicians from Jodhpur with all wearing same costumes.
Pichhawai paintings focusing on the life of Krishna beautify the walls near the terracotta section featuring a number of religious and secular figures enhanced with red ochre. I liked “votive icon of horse” for its neat and clean profile. Creating these votive sculptures of camel, elephant, horse, etc is a tradition rooted in Barmer and Jalore. These statues are offered to gods and goddesses after the wish is granted. Interestingly, the potters first make hollow torsos of the animals and then join separately made heads and limbs of the animals to complete the sculpture.
The wheel-thrown ewers, used for water or wine storage, have perfect oval or round shapes.
The colourful masks made of wood, wool, and natural fibres grace a white wall of the museum. The wall has masks of characters from the epic The Ramayana: Hanuman, Kumbhkaran, Maarich, and Ravana. These masks with local flavours and interpretations of the epics are used in various performances.
Kavads are used by balladeers to enhance their epic narrations. Since balladeers travel regularly for performing at the places of their patrons, kavads consist of various story panels that are hinged together and can be folded easily. The idols of the principal deities are placed in the centre of kavads. Generally, low-density soft wood of meetha neem (curry leaves) tree is used for the shrines. The wooden panels get a coating of khadia before the deities and their stories are painted. The kavads made in Bassi are known for rich craftsmanship.
A Nathdwara painting, famous for symbolism, adorns the Rajasthani bathak (drawing room) at the ground floor. From bathak, I just walked into the costume section. Folk dresses with bright hues and jazzy frills were tempting but they raised a question in my mind – why do people of Rajasthan wear bright dresses in the hot desert?
As I went up to the second floor, phad-chitras that cover top of the high walls of the bathak came closer to my eyes. The folk-style horizontal scroll paintings depict semi-divine and divine figures from rural Rajasthan. These cloth paintings feature large images of the principal deity / hero surrounded by small figurines of the companions. Balladeers perform in front of these paintings from night till morning.
Outside the entrance of the first floor exhibition space, a few pairs of worn out mojaris (traditional footwear), made of tanned leather, are displayed.
The short black gate opens into the traditional Rajasthani kitchen. The spacious bright kitchen features copper utensils and white and red ochre folk drawings on the walls. I spotted a scissor used to pick the pickles in the kitchen. Then, I walked into the adjacent open space where I found the shabby scissors used to trim moustaches (that may scare today’s generation) and the scissors for making durries. More accessories, including carrying rings (indani) and metal locks are also on display. Indanis, plain or richly embellished circular objects, help in balancing water pots on the floor and / or heads. Sense of security and aesthetics oozes out of the metal locks in different shapes crafted by ironsmiths from Ghanerao (Jodhpur) and Nagaur.
In the last corner, I saw agricultural implements such as a plough, an L-shaped spade, an axe, and a sickle and accessories, including chhinki (lattice-like device for ox) for farm animals.
From the implements section, I walked back to the kitchen and realized that the kitchen even without fresh food aromas can whet the appetite. To satiate the appetite, Indian Coffee House, facing the museum, serves snacks.
Indian: INR 20 per person
Foreigner: INR 50 per person
Monday to Friday, 11:00 am- 5:00 pm