History of furniture in India

History of furniture in India.Dextrraa.in

If you think about oldest piece of furniture that you may have ever seen in an Indian home (and I mean ancient), chances are it has to be the humble charpai (Indian cot bed). Now off course many of you would pick on me about our history being full of palaces where the kings would sit on luxurious thrones and other wooden carved lavish pieces. However, when you dig in deep, it is only after the invasion of the Portuguese that we really got into making furniture that gave the way to what we see today. This post is about the history of furniture in India, as requested by one Shikhar Bhardwaj, one of the followers of my blogpost.

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The Moroccan traveller and scholar Ibn Battuta who came to India & was struck by many things Indian, one of them was also the Indian cot bed. From his transcript in 1350 he wrote, “The beds in India are very light, a single man can carry one and every traveller should have his own bed, which his slave carries about on his head. The bed consists of four conical legs, on which four staves are laid; between they plait a sort of ribbon of silk or cotton. When you lie on it you need nothing else to render the bed sufficiently elastic.” Off course since then the Indian cot, our very own Charpai has had many interpretations.

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Furniture making in India is heavily influenced by the art & culture of our country. *Furniture making has been practiced in India since 1336 AD during the Vijayanagar Empire. The empires and the kings from southern India are the primary patrons. Furniture making was considered more of an art and trade. Craftsmen were held in high esteem by the royalty because they were able to preserve legends and folklore in wood. The conventional and standard furniture items can be found in ancient temples and modern buildings. But it was mostly ceremonial, like the throne etc. Since apart from few low pieces to sit on and cushions, most Indians would sit on the floor to eat and sleep as well. It is only when in the beginning of the 1500’s Portuguese invaded India, that we got our big influence of different furniture kind. As the settlers wanted to have pieces like they had back home, Indian craftsmen and material came into practice to make the Portuguese style furniture.

Want to know more about what else has India given to the world? Read our story on what all has India Inspired

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After the Portuguese, it was the French in the late 1600’s and then the Dutch. When the European blue print with Indian craftsmanship got together, we got what was called the Anglo-Indian furniture. If you do happen to go to Goa you would still find many heirloom pieces. Chairs with the most intricate wooden jaali work, tables with detailed in lay and four poster beds that would make you want to dress up to go to bed.

History of Indian furniture01.Dextrraa.in

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This Portuguese-influenced style also included the Mughal Style, found in Northern Indian & the southern style was called Goanese. Mughal style had a collection of furniture like tables and writing desks made of dark hardwoods like ebony with decorations of inlaid bone or ivory. Which is still very famous all over the world. Mostly done in Jodhpur now, the craftsmen use hand crafted pieces of camel bone which are then put in a traditional motif on the particular furniture piece.

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There is another style of furniture called the Indo-Dutch furniture style. Yet another classic example of east meets west. The pieces in this style had elaborate carving and were made on light coloured wood. The wood used for these was mostly ebony and had the most spectacular inlaid decoration. The Indo-Dutch and Portuguese style are easily differentiated as Indo-Dutch is more contemporary and later reflects the Portuguese style. In fact the Indo-Dutch had diverse looks as well.

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Then came the 18th century, the era of the traditional English styles. British styles like Chippendale and Sheraton came in, dinning rooms got more formal even though the wood being used and the craftsmanship continued being Indian. By now even the Indian rulers would have a room full of Chippendale in their palaces. In the 19th century we were still high on complex craftsmanship even though the quality may not have been that well as before. As the market was full of cheaper wood like mango wood and new carpenters who did not have the skill or the finesse as the old school.

India today needs to revive those amazing artisans working on those different wood types found on the sub continent. As more & more pieces are for mass consumption, the mastery of making one piece of its kind seems to be vanishing. Having said that, eve though my personal style is more contemporary, but then obviously I could never say no to a hand crafted inlaid piece of wooden furniture.

Please do like the Facebook page and follow me on Instagram to get to know more about the wonderful history of furniture in India and a lot more. Namastè!

*Data courtesy: Business Online India
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