Strolling around the temples and the ancient palaces of Kathmandu valley, during dusk is one of my favorite habits. It’s not just that these places radiate a sense of serenity but the neighborhood filled with the antique shop full of Nepalese handicrafts and the temples with fabulous wood carving make my time worthwhile.
Handicrafts in Nepal are believed to have started since the Licchavi period (300-879 AD) though the official account of the first handicraft is not available. But the classical period of Nepal (13th to 18th century) ruled by the Malla dynasty helped, extensively in the enrichment of quality, authenticity, and originality of the Nepalese handicrafts.
In today’s hi-tech and industrialized society, the mere glance of handmade and eco-friendly products lifts our tired spirits. Especially, obtaining the authentic and local handicraft gives us pleasure, nowhere to be found. In Nepal, especially in Kathmandu valley, the tradition of craftsmanship is still preserved, thanks to the close-knit Newar (Indo-Burmic in origin believed to be natives of Kathmandu valley) communities who have been practicing it for many centuries. So, there is still the chance to feel the originality and the local-ness in the variety of handicrafts.
Basically, handmade crafts in Nepal can be divided into two main categories viz. textile handicrafts and non-textile handicrafts. The details of these categories are what I intend to describe in this article.
It includes, along with pashmina, wool, Dhaka (one kind of local textile), hemp products, also (nettle fiber), felt, silk, and cotton goods. These materials are extensively used to prepare clothes, bags, jackets, shawls, trousers, and so forth.
In Nepal, the source of pashmina is the fur of the Himalayan goats (Chyangras). Since they are reared in the high altitude of Nepal, pashmina is an item of rarity. Often used to make the pashmina shawl, these days, with the advancement of technology, manufacturers in Kathmandu have been exporting Pashmina goods via the internet too. Though the pashmina industry experienced a downfall because of the wide use of fake furs, after the strict scrutinization, the business is booming again.
Widely considered to be the pride of Nepal, Dhaka is the local textile that has been widely used as Nepali Cap (Dhaka topi), blouse, and shirts (Kamij). During festivities of Newar and hilly people, women can be seen in colorful Dhaka attire that captures anyone’s eye. Believed to be originated from western hills, today, Dhaka represents the identity of Nepalese.
Woolen, hemp, felt, and cotton goods
If you travel on the alleys of Thamel or Patan, you can clearly observe the bags made up of hemp, or the scarfs made up of silk with art crafted by skilled artisans. Not to miss, woolen products such as jackets, pullovers, ponchos, mufflers, hats, gloves, and socks are textile handicrafts found in Nepal. And after 2006/7, the products of felt (somewhat like woolen are in optimum demand.)
It consists of woodcraft, stone craft, metal craft, silver jewelry, leather goods, Thangka/Paubha (religion-based paintings), bone and horn products, handmade paper products, incense, ceramics items, bamboo products, and plastic items.
Maybe one of the oldest and popular handicrafts in Nepal, Woodcraft has been practiced by Silpakar (woodcarvers), the distinguished clan of Newar. Various products made out of wood can be found in Nepal which includes miniature statues, and tools for daily use crafted by skilled artisans.
Undoubtedly, metal crafts are the most popular and widely exported handicrafts of Nepal along with woolen and cotton products. Crafted by the members of Tamrakar (copper crafters and idol makers), metal crafts are often found in different varieties. The magnificent statue of Buddha, Ganesh, Shiva, and different deities are prepared out of copper and silver. One simply doesn’t get tired walking the alleys Patan, where antique shops are filled with the amazing display of metal crafts. Initially, designed out of wax, the shape of the craft I encased in the clay mold which is heated to harden. Once the job is done, the wax is melted and poured out through the case and instead replaced by the metal of choice, often bronze and silver. Letting the shape to set, the metal being is extracted by breaking the mold; the final piece obtained by polishing and giving a final touch by a skilled artisan.
Silver jewelry is one of the most exported handicrafts from Nepal. The skilled artisans who are the member of Shakya and Bajracharya (Silversmiths) have been exploiting their talent and crafting fabulous silverware.
Kathmandu is often quoted as the city of temples. The cultural and religious environment in Nepal is a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism. Thangka is a religious-based painting, especially Buddhism and the amazing and mysterious lifestyle of Lamas. It depicts the lifecycle of the Buddhist deities and the historical incident.
These products can be considered as a recent addition to the Nepalese handicraft. After the introduction of the concept of recycling and reusing of the materials citing the environmental concern, various useful products are made out of paper and plastics.
There are so many online stores in Nepal, that are established with the sole purpose to promote the handicrafts of Nepal, and add to this, with the advancement of technology, each buyer can go through each product review on the internet before spending money on it.
There are some locally owned and charitable online stores that want to keep the tradition of Handicraft alive in the country by spending a certain amount of their revenue in social sectors of backward communities. One can, easily, from her apartment in Sydney or Chicago can get handicraft items on her door without much hassle and delivery charge in today’s highly sophisticated world.