The word ‘ Chamba rumal ‘ implies a peculiar visual art form
that represents unique and charming embroidery done on a
hand spun cloth with untwisted silken thread,which is greatly
inspired from pahari painting.
The tradition of this kind of pictorial embroidery was known
& practiced in some areas of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu
which remained once important centres of pahari painting.
Rumal is Persian word which means a ’ kerchief ’, a square
piece of cloth worn on the head or around the neck.
The cloth employed for the embroidery was generally
unbleached muslin or khaddar.The drawing was drawn
in outlines with fine brush by the accomplished pahari
painters sometimes,the female embroiders would pre-
fer to draw the patterns and figures themselves.
This resulted in two different styles one elegant
and fine in draughtmanship and the other one
some what coarse and bold in treatment.
ORIGIN OF CRAFT
This craft originated, developed and flourished in the
erstwhile state of Chamba in the 17 – 18 century AD,
when the fascinating art of painting was at its zenith.
Thus,the image of miniature paintings were translated
into kashidakari (embroidery), which took the pride of
becoming the celebrated feminine craft tradition of
Chamba.The pictorial handicraft of Chamba possesses
distinct characteristic of its own, which differentiates it
from other forms of embroideries in India.
In Mandi, Suket and Bilaspur, the
type of embroidery was different
from the style prevalent in Chamba
In these former states the embroi-
dered rumals with floral and bird
motifs were called hathapura,used
for giving present during marriages.
The artistic activity of Chamba rumal survived and
practiced only in old Chamba state where painters
continued to work even up to the present time. Wom
-en of the royal house or the wife of the nobles used
to embroider the well composed rumal in the leisure
hours as a pastime activity.
Since this pictorial handicraft of embroidery on the
pieces of cloth employing unique do – rukha tanka
was originated,developed,received wide patronage
and remained in practice for a considerable period
(more than two centuries), hence its (Chamba’s)
name came to be associated with this handicraft
and acquired its generic name as Chamba rumal.
Fabric and Threads
The fabric used as carrier in Chamba rumal was hand spun
& hand woven cotton(khaddar) or fine muslin (mal-mal) of off
white colour.Off-white base of the fabric highlights the vibrant
silken threads employed for filling up the drawing. Or the
embroidery work done on choli, caps or coverlets the coarse
khaddar ; red or blue colour is used for the rumals. The most
popular fabric , employed in Chamba rumals, was khaddar
because of its availability, low cost and durability. It was also
manufactured in Chamba and muslin weavers ‘ julaha ’ were
skilled in weaving the fabric on handloom.
The use of mill made cloth is
noticed in the Chamba rumals
of late nineteenth century This
fabric was brought to Chamba
from Punjab by the itinerant
traders of Sukho – Chak town
(Tehsil Shakargarh) district
Gurdaspur, now in Pakistan
The figures as well as the floral patterns drawn on the Chamba
rumals are filled in with the untwisted silk floss also known
as pat. Sometimes, the women used to get the silk threads dye
-d selecting the tones and hues according to their fancy. The
coloured noticed in the Chamba embroidery are: purple, brilliant
pink,orange, carmine,deep red brown, lemon and deep yellow
dark green , parrot green and green ,ultramarine and Persian
blue ,black and white.Silver wire (tilla) known as badla, is also
noticed on the old Chamba rumals which with the course of
time tends to tarnish by the oxidization.
TYPES OF FABRICS USED FOR CHAMBA RUMAL:
Silk fabric was used generally by the royal clan of chamba for the
chamba rumal for presenting it during the festival times or during
the marriage ceremonies . Silk being an expensive fabric was’nt
used by the common people and considered a symbol of status.
Khaddar fabric is used by the people but since the fabric is
thick doing the embroidery for the rumal becomes difficult hen
-ce it is used rarely according to the demand of the products
Muslin or the cotton fabric is the most common of all the fabrics
being used for the chamba rumal. The fabric being light and easy to
handle is preferred by the women folks for the do-rukha tanka
Craft production process
The process of creating a Chamba Rumal involves the
i) The visualization of the theme to be embroidered.
ii) The outlining of the initial drawing in charcoal by a
trained miniature artist.
iii) The predetermination of a color palette to be used
while embroidering the rumal.
iv) The actual embroidering of the rumal by the women
along the designs sketched in charcoal by miniature
The stitch used in embroidering the Chamba Rumal was
the do-rukha , a double – satin stitch , which as its name
implies, can be viewed from two (do) sides or aspects
(rukh). The stitch is carried both backward and forward
and covers both sides of the cloth , effecting a smooth
finish that is flat and looks like colours filled into a
No knots are visible, and the embroidered rumal can be
viewed from both sides. It thus becomes reversible. A
simple stem-stitch using black silk thread is used to out
-line the figures. Other stitches like the cross stitch, the
button – hole stitch, the long and short stitch, and the
herring-bone stitch,as well as pattern darning,were also
‘Do-rukha’ – the double satin stitch
Embroidery is usually a decorative stitching mostly done
with fine needles on the fabrics ; the craft of embroidery
has been practised in the different part of India having
distinct style,though the basic stitche is almost the same
everywhere.However,’do-rukha tanka‘the double running
satin stitch which was used in the chamba rumal embroid
-ery is unique and is not noticed elsewhere in the tradition
of Indian embroidery. This stitch is placed closely and sid
-e by side brings out such extraordinary effect that the em
-broidery comes out strikingly identical on both the sides
of the rumals (do-rukha).
Figurative forms animal and birds have also been requen
-tly used in chamba rumals.These designs and motifs we
-re drawn by the pahari painters themselves,whereas the
folkish designs, in which the figures bear small rounded
faces like parrot beaks, seem to have been drawn on their
own by the women embroiders.women embroiders of Ch
-amba rumals seem to have responded immaculately in
stitching to the beauty of pahari miniature paintings.
Chamba rumals are usually a pictorial representation of
the compositions borrowed from the pahari miniatures of
Chamba and Kangra school and wonderfully embroidered
in silken on the surface of the cotton fabric. The style and
pictorial quality of the drawings of rumals apparently
indicate the dating of the embroidered works.
Dandi Tanka the stem stitch
The outline in black thread is a marked characteristic, which
is a conspicuous characteristic of the chamba rumal. After
filling the colourful threads in the figures and floral designs ,
these are finally enclose with a fine line worked out in black
thread , which apparently lends the powerful affect as seen
in pahari miniature painting
The line drawing in pahari painting is very important part as
the pictures are finished by the fine and sensitive outlines
after the filling of the colours. Similarly in the case of the
Chamba rumals , after the figures are filled up with silken
threads of different hues,the magical effect is achieved thro-
ugh fine outlines done in black thread in dandi tanka the
stem stitch, which is also its most conspicuous feature.The
drawing depicts the stages of Dandi Tanka stitches.
Criss Cross stitch
The use of criss cross stitches , which comprise a simple
technique of crossing two stitches of equal size in the shape
of a cross (X) can be discerned in several rumals.This stitch
as a unit comprises a running band mostly in red colour ,
arrayed usually in straight or circular line identically visible
on the both sides of the fabric. This criss – cross stitch is no
longer practiced by any contemporary embroider in Chamba.
Chamba rumals are embellished with vivid decorat
-ive motifs and designs, which are the inseparable
part of this pictorial handicraft. These motifs and
designs are used and laid carefully as fillers in the
blank passive space of the compositions of the
rumals. For instance, the motifs such as birds and
animals, decorative plants and shrubs displaying a
considerable variety, are seen invariably in several
A large number of motifs drawn from the animal &
vegetal world such as parrots, peacocks.Cranes,
partridges and sparrows,cows,elephants,horses,
deer,wild boar and dogs , plantains , cypresses,
willow trees , shrubs and plants (buti) and buds &
flowers (phul) patterns etc. have been extensively
used in chamba rumals .
Animal works is seen mostly in the subjects depicti
-ng hunting expeditions in which horses and eleph-
ant riders are shown hunting the wild boars, deer,
leopards, tigers and lions, cows with their calves are
also skilfully rendered in the rumals showing
A great variety of buti and phul patterns are skilfully used
as filler in the intervening blank space of the fabric by the
painters. The space of rumals is in variably detailed with
variations of trees,shrubs, decorative plants and phulpatti
designs. Cypress trees with some variations have been
used as an important decorative motif by the painters to
beautify the compositions of the rumals.
It was customary to gift embroidered rumals in a
girl’s marriage. Hence, Subjects like wedding scen-
es were popular and were repeatedly embroidered.
The rumal was considered one of the essential item
of dowry of the bride who learnt this craft at a very
young age . This handicraft , being an important
item of the dowry, was dependent for its existence
almost on the social custom i.e. wedding. No marr-
iage ceremony would be reckoned complete without
the gift of Chamba rumal by the relatives of the
It was considered and additional merit if the brides
were well versed in the craft of embroidery. On wed-
ding or other important occasions , these rumals
were worn both by men and women who hung them
proudly on their shoulders.People of every class,rich
or poor, high or low produced these rumals in some
form or another, whereas the elite class preferred
more beautiful and intricate designs.
The Role of Painter
The craft of Chamba rumal was a joint venture in which the pahari painter drew the subjects on a piece of cloth and women embroiderers worked upon it with silken threads , so the beautiful art work ‘rumal’ manifested
as a result of joint venture . Here the fine needle replaced the painter’s brush, fabric substituted for the handmade paper and the colourful
threads for the pigments.
The drawings of the Chamba rumals were never traced; rather they were done in a swish without breaking the line. So
dexterous were the hands of the Pahari Painters, who drew
with brush either in black or sanguine colour on the fabric. The traces of drawings can be noticed in some rumals where the silken threads have been flaked off.
Painters were also invariably imparting suggestions to the
female embroider regarding the palette of silk threads to be
employed. Chamba Rumals of the later period have come
to the notices, which are hurriedly drawn but using wooden