Skip to content

Of Art Trails, Prayer Wheels And Clay Craft In Himachal’s Kangra Valley...

 Nestled against the magnificent snow-capped Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas, the Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh is a melting pot of captivating Arts and Crafts! During a recent visit to Himachal Pradesh, we had the opportunity to discover the varied art forms being nurtured there..

| ‘Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala’ – A Wellspring of Tibetan Art & Culture:

Located in the valley below Dharamsala, Norbulingka Institute is a serene retreat which aims to preserve the rich heritage of Tibetan art and culture. Replete with lush gardens, gurgling streams and an aura of peace and tranquility, this gorgeous complex is built in traditional Tibetan style, with the ground plan based on the proportions of Avalokiteshwara, the deity of compassion.

With a focus on keeping Tibetan traditions alive in a sustainable manner, Norbulingka provides apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms and has a vibrant community of artisans.

Norbulingka was a pleasure to visit and gave us an opportunity to immerse ourselves in a wealth of Tibetan art and culture!

From the traditional Buddhist Art forms of Thangka painting, Statue making and Thangka appliqué to the decorative arts of Woodcarving, Wood painting, Tailoring and Weaving, we witnessed the gifted Tibetan artisans and their apprentices at work in the varied Norbulingka workshops.

1. Thangka Painting: We began our exploration of Norbulingka by observing the Thangka artists as they practiced this striking art form. A sacred Buddhist art created based on the proportions of deities as depicted in scripture, Thangka paintings are used as a visualization aid for meditation. As proportions of the deities are considered sacred, ensuring exact measurements are of utmost importance; hence an aspiring artist takes years of studying iconographic grids to master the art!


2. Statue Making: Moving on to another sacred Tibetan art, we visited the statue making workshops, fascinated by the life-like forms and exquisite detailing of the statues fashioned there. As in the case of Thangka painting, statues are used as objects of meditation and are created based on the proportions of deities described in scripture. The training period for a statue-making artist lasts up to seven years at Norbulingka!


3. Woodcarving: Similar to other Tibetan arts, the motifs used in woodcarving are frequently iconic in nature, and hence follow a standard form of representation. Ranging from elements in nature to religious symbols, a variety of designs is used, with the most common symbols being the Tashi Targye, or Eight Auspicious Symbols.


4. Wood Painting: When observing the special technique of embossing used in Tibetan wood painting, we were fascinated by how the technique used by the artists provided a three-dimensional appearance to the designs, making them almost pop off the flat surfaces on which they were painted!


5. Other Arts: We also visited the Appliqué, Thangka appliqué and Weaving workshops. While appliqué is an embroidery technique where several individual pieces are combined to form a patchwork design, Thangka appliqué is a sacred art where thangkas are created using silk and appliqué techniques rather than paint. Here is a peek at the interesting sights from these workshops!


The institute also gives visitors a chance to take customized workshops and try their hands at the art forms of Thangka sketching/ painting, Woodcarving and Wood painting. Bitten by the art bug, and captivated by the talent displayed by the Norbulingka artisans, it’s definitely something on our to-do list!

After an insightful tour of the workshops, we spent some time in quiet reflection at the serene temple in the complex. With a stunning 14 ft gilded Buddha and intricate thangka frescoes embellishing the walls, the temple is a testimony to the splendid workmanship of the Norbulingka artisans!


We concluded our delightful visit to Norbulingka by indulging in coffee and scrumptious carrot cake at the charming Hummingbird café set in Norbulingka’s sprawling gardens!


|| ‘Andretta Pottery & Craft Society, Palampur’ – A Tale of Art, Clay and the Potter’s Wheel:

Furthering our quest to explore arts and crafts in the Kangra valley, we visited the quaint little village of Andretta, near Palampur in Kangra District. An artists’ colony was established in Andretta in the 1920s, when noted Irish theatre artiste and environmentalist, Norah Richards moved there.

A hub for artistic activity, Andretta has attracted eminent artists, theatre practitioners, painters and potters over the years, such as legendary painter Sobha Singh, celebrated painter and sculptor B C Sanyal, renowned potter Gurcharan Singh and famed theatre and film personality Prithvi Raj Kapoor.

We visited the Andretta Pottery and Craft Society, which was started in 1983 by Mansimran Singh, the son of legendary potter Gurcharan Singh. The founder of Delhi Blue Art Pottery, Gurcharan Singh was responsible for introducing Studio art pottery into India.

To assist the local potters and promote pottery, Mansimran Singh set up Andretta Pottery, which has a production studio creating striking rangoli-patterned glazed earthenware. Since its inception, Andretta Pottery has participated in exhibitions throughout the country, and supplies its wares for sale. In addition, it provides three-month long residential courses for aspiring potters.


During our visit to the studio, we had the opportunity to try our hand at the potter’s wheel and mould a small creation of our own, under the watchful guidance of the skilled potters. We also peeked in at the tiny store in the studio which displays attractive earthenware for sale, and couldn’t resist indulging in a little retail therapy as a souvenir of our trip!


Our visit to dreamy Andretta has us mulling over the possibility of taking up the residential pottery course. In addition to the opportunity to study pottery with the renowned potter Mansimran Singh, the rustic beauty of Andretta, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas, would be inspiration enough!


– Written by Namratha Jagadish for The Purple Turtles.


Image Sources: Pictures taken during Himachal trip

Information Sources:

Previous article 5 Last Minute Diwali Decoration Ideas