By Amruta K. R.:
“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition.” – Mark Twain
Art and culture of India have left several scholars and intellectuals spell bounded, may it be Mark Twain, Albert Einstein or Max Muller. India has preserved its culture through careful curation and encouragement of paintings, scriptures and art forms like Kalamkari, Bidri art, Jaipur stonework, Bandhini, etc. The credit of passing the culture from one generation to another goes to poets, artisans, craftsmen and to all those former kings who had great artistic sense and encouraged their craftsmen to practice their art. However, the ages of kings and emperors are long gone. Only the craftsmen and artisans are left behind to protect the rich art forms that India had nurtured from time immemorial.
The Indian Handicraft Industry generates one of the largest employment with over six million people and 67,000 export houses all across the country. Each state nurtures its own craft practice influenced by its geography and traditions. Although, Indian handicrafts have gained international recognition and have huge demand globally the craftsmen and artists lead an unfortunate life and are exploring other means of livelihood.
A recent interaction with the Varanasi artisans who produce unique wares with copper, wood, stone and clay, gave me a better picture of the current situation of the Indian crafts industry. All I heard was a sad story about the craftsmanship dying in their town. “Once upon a time there were fifty of us, and now, only two of us remain in the entire city of Varanasi who can join different colored stones seamlessly into an artifact like chess board,” says one of the stone crafts artist.
This seems to be the story of a majority of the old towns of India. The reason behind the loss of demand for these craftsmen’s unique products and their destitute condition is globalization and cheap Chinese goods flooding the market. Furthermore, they are either illiterate or poorly educated which makes them hard to upgrade their skills and to understand the market trends. Thus as a result of incompetence, they end up losing business and move to other professions.
Fortunately, all dark clouds have a silver lining and here is one too. While I was digging deeper to find a feasible solution, I came across Navodyami. This is an online platform for small, thriving artisans to reach out to customers directly. This website provides access to handmade, ethnic, tribal and regional products e.g. home decor, accessories, apparels and corporate gifts. They are currently working with 4,000 micro-entrepreneurs from Karnataka, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh and are playing a significant role in improving the livelihoods of these artisans.
Navodyami initially began as a program of Deshpande Foundation in 2011. Its main intention was to support and create micro-entrepreneurs in rural and peri-urban cities of Northwest Karnataka. One such case is of Dinesh Devadiga, who used to be a helper in a hotel. Aspiring to be an entrepreneur, he started Annapurna Handicraft Industry in 2006. He joined the Navodyami Programme in 2011 and obtained bank loans for the expansion of business. He now produces 40 products and has a turnover of over 60 lakhs – a growth of 500%.
Along with mentorship and funding support, Navodyami also organizes exclusive exhibits bringing artisans and customers together and creates a greater awareness of the rich local arts. Most of the products at Navodyami are exclusive and rarely accessible otherwise, such as Bidri ware, embroidered Ilkal and hand-painted sarees, soft stone art from Mahoba and carved ethnic woodwork from Varanasi.
Navodyami is a platform that brings art lovers in direct contact with artisans who sell their handicrafts from various parts of India reaching the doorsteps of national and global customers thereby creating easy accessibility to handmade products at the most affordable price while generating a sense of appreciation for traditional Indian arts.