Folk arts and crafts are the integral parts of life in Orissa. Famous for the beauty and craftsmanship of Konark, Jagannath and Lingaraj and incalculable other temples, Orissa offers a prominent collection of arts and crafts both decorative and utilitarian. Be it the brilliant appliqu works of Pipili, sparkling Patta Chitra of Puri, Silver Filigree jewellery and golden grass mats of Cuttack or dazzling Horn work of Parlakhemundi and Clay Toys of Mayurbhanj, each handicrafts emanate a charm and originality of its own. In the days of Mc Donalds, Pepsi Cola and Levi's jeans, where free flow of goods and services and also of people and culture have been rampant, the volatility of the choice of the variety-seeking consumers, the king in the age of globalization not only always demands the new and modern but also sometimes revamps the old and the traditional. It is here the case for traditional arts and crafts comes to the fore. Quite surprisingly many foreign fashion shows are run these days with Hollywood models wearing the appliqued motifs sarees designed by Indian fashion designers. This instance adds to growing demand for Indian folk creations like, applique umbrellas in western sea beaches. This shows how tradition meets with modernity these days. Globalization has put both east and west into one compartment and makes a single village a global village. In the age of jet travel and mobile communication, boundaries between cultures are liable to erode and deterritorialised.

Globalization and Indian Crafts Industry:

India opened up its economy and adapted to globalisation in the early nineties. Major changes initiated as a part of the liberalisation and globalisation strategy included scrapping of the industrial licensing regime, reduction in the number of areas reserved for the public sector, amendment of the monopolies and the restrictive trade practices act, start of the privatization programme, reduction in tariff rates etc. Since the advent of globalization in 1991, India has experienced a lot and accordingly the society has undergone many changes in different spheres. Though the forces of globalization have ample positive effects in the long-run in many sectors of our economy and society, some of its repulsive implications against the poor in many cases have worried our development strategists. If we suspend the later for a moment, one of the growing sector benefited out of it, is the Handicraft industry with 'Indian handicrafts export crossing Rs.1,220/- crores in 1990-91 from merely 10 crores in the mid fifties.' Again the Ministry of Textiles data show, it increased to Rs. 4517.52 crores in 1994-95 and Rs. 7206.79 crores in 2000-01. It had reached at the peak Rs. 8059.63 Crores in 1999-2000 ( Indian handicrafts are now available in global markets, so also foreign crafts in our shops. Handicrafts constitute a significant segment of the decentralized sector of our economy and its importance is being felt when it is assessed that it provides employment to lakhs of artisans scattered especially in the weaker sections of our society such as SCs, STs and the women, producing goods worth thousands of Crores of Rupees per year.

The skilled hand of the Indian craftsmen is our most important and yet most invisible resource. It is to be perceived with concern and with a precise understanding of its value. Because once lost nothing can replace it. India has been the exporter of crafts for ages. The workmanship of the Indian craftsmen is so exquisite that throughout the 18th and 19th centuries India was known to other countries on the trade route more by her crafts than by her art, religion and philosophy.

As the data shown above clarifies, remarkable progress has been made in exports of handicrafts since India's Independence. The Handicrafts and Handlooms Exports corporations of India ltd (HHEC) a govt. of India undertaking established in 1962 has been instrumental in promoting Indian handloom fabrics in the west. There is a vast scope for the Indian's handicrafts exports to grow further. In the age of globalization, where efficiency meets success, Indian handicraft's further prospects lies in diversification of products and markets. We have to be ahead of our competitors in keeping ourselves informed of market trend and changes in fashion and design.

Orissan Crafts and Crafts Persons:

Orissa, one of the backward state in the Indian union has also taken the advantages of new opportunities of globalization and designed policies in such a way to attract foreign investment and forge ahead with its policy of economic reforms. Now it has attracted FDI flows in different sectors of its economy. Globalisation has many impacts on its handicrafts sector. Orissa, which has distinguished crafts heritage, 'there are 69,395 handicraft artisans, which includes- 41,612 males and 27,744 females. Many of its crafts have long historical past and have been produced since antiquity. For instance the Applique crafts of Pipili in Puri district which is now an internationally well known craft, is thought to have been used to decorate the temples since 1054 A.D. Sources say, in ancient Orissa several crafts and industries also developed during the Nanda and Maurya rule as has been found from the excavated sites at Sisupalgarh (near Bhubaneswar), Jaugarh (in Ganjam) and Asurgarh.


During present times, according to available statistics, in Orissa during 1998-99, the total procurement and sale of handicrafts and art-textile products through government sources was to the tune of Rs.289.05 and Rs.526.97 lakh respectively. During 1998-99, handicrafts and art-textile goods worth Rs.28.76 lakh were exported to countries like Germany, Australia and France. However the total export of Orissan handicrafts during the year 1998-99 was only Rs.63.60 lakh. This is at a time when the all India export figures of handicrafts were worth Rs.58.40 Crore. Interestingly, according to latest data, the number of Crafts persons engaged only in Applique sector in Orissa stands at 6,444 and the annual production in this sector stands at approximately Rs. 280 lakh. In the production of Silver filigree nearly 6800 artisans are engaged which has an annual production of nearly Rs.900 Lakh. Now many of the handicrafts have become fashionable elements in almost everybody's house and of course with the business going beyond borders, the crafts have attracted foreign tourists and foreign markets (thereby increasing the demand), thanks to the growing intensity of the forces of globalization.

Despite its huge deposits of mineral resources, Orissa continues to remain as one of the most backward states of the Indian Union. Also the low level of educational attainment of its manpower in general and the absence of skilled labour force along with a promising entrepreneurial class in particular throttle industrialization of the state economy. Again the agricultural sector has limited openings to absorb its growing workforce. Hence the issue of promotion and revival of traditional village and cottage industries in a more extensive way come to the fore.

In the era of globalization and changing the taste and fashion, different crafts products have been undergoing change and adopted innovation. For instance, the appliqu works of Pipili have been reoriented to make appliqu umbrellas with metal fabrications, which are used in sea beaches and gardens, while sarees, chholies etc with appliqued folk motifs are becoming popular among people.

Problems Facing the Crafts and Crafts Persons:

In the present globalized and financial liberalized market, owing to the popularization of machine based low cost and superior quality consumer goods, the Indian handicraft industry in general and Orissan craft industry in particular is facing enormous problems. As there has been the evolution of the modern market system economy, the artisans have lost their holds over the old patron-client market network and jajmani relationship. In the globalization times, though with their products going global and increasing demand for it, there is a rise in the handicraft sector economy, still 'the artisans have become increasingly dependent on middle men like petty merchant capitalists who pay the artisans in wage on piece rate bases.' The government's initiative to create cooperatives has not become much successful. A report says there are over 25lakh crafts persons in India, based mostly in the villages who are not used to interaction with buyers and don't have the necessary skills to safeguard their own interests. Illiteracy often makes them more vulnerable.

Another problem is that the village craftsmen in our society remain concerned that with free trade, mass production, embroidery from other parts of the world will out price the products of their hard labour. Although globalization has so far served the handicrafts sector well, there is no denial that some of these products will come under attack and India will not be able to word that off. In Orissa various small scale industries have been facing enormous problems and have failed to compete with the Chinese companies who have intruded into the Orissan market with their low cost products. So there is an urgent need for the Orissa government to invest more in this sector. Since handicrafts come in the state list, it becomes a major responsibility of the state govt. to ensure maximum development in this sector.

Another problem is in Orissa, it is observed that the production matrix of the handicrafts is structured in such a manner that the craftspersons notwithstanding their superb skill and artisanship always remain at the receiving end. In contrast the trader entrepreneurs or merchant capitalists and the middle men by virtue of their control over the marketing of the craft-goods occupy the top position of the production ladder. The illiterate artists failing to deal with the modern market system take the help of these middle men who pocket the actual surplus. As a result the artisans gradually become poorer though their products become highly demanding in both home and international markets. It has compelled the poor artists of the state who constitute the third largest in the country to shift to and adopt a more viable occupation. A report of the United Nations suggests that in India, over the past 30 years the number of artisans have declined by at least 30 per cent and many of these artisans are joining the ranks of casual wage labourers and the informal economy. As we see in Orissa also there is a gradual decrease in the number of Darjis engaged in applique works who are choosing to shift to other professions.


Another potential threat to the handicrafts is related to its innovations. In market economy, emphasis is given to the consumption pattern of the people. If the customer wants a product, it must be available, even if the social costs are high. So the artists are bringing in changes in different craft products to meet the demands of the people. In many respects the contemporary artisans retain traditionalism in their craft while simultaneously producing for a global consumer or local tourist market. But the problem arises when originality is lost in the process of innovation. In Orissa, in the appliqu sector, it has been seen that competition amongst the artisans, use of low quality inputs and use of readymade and machine made items have often brought down the standard of the work. Something exceptional in the market that may be liked by the tourists initiated change in the appliqu works. According to Sheikh Aasique of Nilam Appliques (name of the shop) in Pipili town, 'we have to bring changes since the consumers want variety.' Such increased diversity in the number of items produced has not only seen in appliqu works of Pipili but also witnessed in patta-paintings, tassar-painting, silver filigree, brass work and stone carving.

Intervening measures:

Now it is very clear that in the age of globalization the local handicrafts products of our country have enough opportunities in the home and global markets. However the precarious conditions of the artists needs careful interventions. In this context, it can be said that the government have been taking different measures to make the handicraft products globally competitive and the condition of the artisans better. The Development Commissioner, Handicrafts has taken various safety measures for the welfare of the artisans like giving training to the artists, introducing new techniques and designs to meet the demands of the variety-seeking consumers. Besides, organizing exhibition-cumsale of crafts products, opening up of sales emporium for the handicrafts goods and providing insurances to the poor craftspersons are also taken up. To deal with the handicrafts related issues, the All India Handicrafts Board was established in 1952 to study the problems confronting the handicrafts, to improve and develop the production techniques and new designs to suit the changing tastes and to promote marketing in India and abroad. However all of these have to be implemented wholeheartedly by the government agencies. Add to it, various cooperatives, voluntary associations also need to put sincere effort for the better working condition of the artists.

The production base is much unorganized in Indian handicrafts sector. The craftsmen use traditional tools and techniques for which the production base is very weak. So for improvement in the quality of production, it is necessary to upgrade the skill of the artists who should be supplied with quality raw material and adequate financial assistance. Government should take ample measures to provide with loans and giving training to the artists. At the same time care should be taken to ensure that with innovation originality of the crafts is truly maintained.

To make the craft products internationally well known and commercially viable, steps should be taken together by the ministry of Information, Commerce and Tourism. Besides the Indian government could make different Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) for export of crafts goods to foreign countries while dealing with trade related agreements. In addition, the craftsmen should also be properly exposed to the market, leaving a little room for the intrusion of the exploitative middlemen. Since antiquity, Orissa is well known throughout the world for its celebrated handicraft products and illustrious expertise of its artists. Let us work together to continue with that tradition.



  1. S. Vijayagopalan, "Economic Status of Handicraft Artisans" ( New Delhi: NCAER, 1993), p. 07.
  2. D.N. Saraf, In the journey of craft development. 1941-1991 (New Delhi: Sampark Publication Devision, 1991), p. 52.
  3. Census of Handicraft Artisans, 1995-96, State series, vol. 18, Orissa, p. 92-96.
  4. Anne Morrell , The Technique of Indian Embroidery (London: B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1994), p. 126.
  5. Raimohan Mohapatra, A Study in the Economic Life and Progress of Ancient and Medieval Orissa:From the Earliest times to the 16th Century A.D. (Kolkata: R.N. Bhattacharya pub, 2002), p-129-130.
  6. Saroj Mishra, "Handicraft: Looking Down the Barrel", India First, Vol-ii, Issue-21, October, 2005, p-5.
  7. Ibid.
  8. P. Nayak, Socio-economic study of Craftsmen engaged in pottery and clay modelling in Keonjhar District of Orissa (Bhubaneswar, Jana Sevak Mandal, Oct 1993), P. 9.
  9. Munira Sen,
  10. Kaushik Basu,
  11. "Rajyara Kshyudrasilpa Pain Chin Aatank"(in Oriya), The Samaja 12th September, 2006.
  12. S. Seth, "Towards a Volunteer Movement of Artisan Support", Craft News, 6 (1), 1995, pp-1, 3-4.
  13. Dipankar Gupta, Mistaken Modernity (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2000), p-78.
  14. Timothy J Scrase, "Precarious Production: Globalization and artisan labour in the Third World" Third World Quarterly, Vol-24, No-3, p-459.
  15. Ramesh Chandra Mohapatra, "Changing Patterns in the Applique Crafts of Pipili", Orissa Review, December,2005, p-67.
  16. Based on my field work conducted in June, 2007.
  17. J. Acharya, & R. Lund, "Gendered spaces: Sociospatial relations of self-employed women in Craft production, Orissa, India" Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift-Norwegian Journal of Geography, Vol. 56, 2002, p- 210.
  18. M.N. Upadhyay, Handicrafts of India, (Sucunderabad : Swarajya Printing Works, 1976), p-09.

Originally published at Orissa Review, November 2007. This article is republished with due permission from the author.