The findings of the archaeological excavations in Banda, Mirzapur and Meerut, and the chalk drawings by primitive men extensively found in the Vindhyan ranges of Mirzapur districts, link Uttar Pradesh to the early Stone Age and Harappan era making it one of the ancient cradles of Indian culture.
Blessed with a variety of geographical land and many cultural diversities, Uttar Pradesh, has been the area of activity of historical heroes like Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Mahavira, Ashoka, Harsha, Akbar and Mahatma Gandhi. Dotted with various holy shrines, pilgrim centres, historical monuments and full of joyous festivals, its contributions to India in politics, culture, and society are outstanding.
Kathak is a refined classical dance form, one of the six foremost classical dances of India. Its name is derived from the word 'Katha' meaning story. Kathak dance form has originated in northern India during the 6th - 7th century AD. In ancient times, there was a class of professional storytellers who recited the epics and mythological stories with added element of abhinaya. They were called Kathakas who travelled around the country entertaining and educating the people with sacred legends, folklores and mythology. By the 13th century the style of singing by Kathakas had developed its own special features. The emphasis of the dance moved from the religious to the aesthetic. Abhinaya (the use of mime and gesture) became subtler, with emphasis placed on the performer's ability to express a theme in many different ways and with infinite nuances.
Later it spread to Lucknow, Raipur and Jaipur. The style that flourished under patronage of Muslim rulers of Lucknow came to be known as Lucknow Gharana. Lucknow Gharana was greatly influenced by Muslim culture and traditions. The Lucknow Gharana developed a style of Kathak that is characterized by precise, finely detailed movements and an emphasis on the exposition of thumri, a semi-classical style of love song. The footwork is matched by the percussion instruments like tabala and pakhwaj. It has very intricate movements of the hands and feet along with facial expressions set to complex time cycles. The dance movements include numerous pirouettes executed at lightning speed and ending in statuesque pose.
Raslila is a theatrical form prevailing in Agra Region that is known as Braj area. This art form is associated with the life of Lord Krishna who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. According to the Bhagwat Purana, Shri Krishna along with the gopis had danced the Ras on the banks of the Yamuna at Vrindavan. In the midst of the dance he disappeared agonising the Gopis who enacted his lilas, which in course of time came to be known as the Raslilas.
This colourful and glossy art form emphasises on music and dancing. The story generally deals with the relationship of Lord Krishna with his consort Radha and his charming childhood pranks. The Centre of this art form is Mathura.
Ramlila is a traditional art form that deals with the life of Lord Rama who is another incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Ramlila, basically an enactment of a myth, is presented as a cycle-play with the story varying from 7 to 31 days. The Ramlila performance evokes a festive atmosphere and enables observance of religious rites. It is also rich in performance crafts such as costume jewellery, masks, headgear, make-up and decoration.
Ramlila is performed during Dussehra that commemorates the victory of goodness represented by Rama over Ravan representing forces of evil. With the passage of time local variations of Ramlila have sprung up in different parts of the State with changes in dialogue and music. This art form is performed almost in all villages during the Dussehra festival.
Charkula is a traditional folk dance of Braj, where a female dancer balances a column of lighted deepikas over her head while dancing. The charkula, a tapered wooden column with four to five circular tiers has earthen lamps on each level. The number of lamps may range from 51 to 108 at times. The dancer, balancing the charkula on her head, moves with swift and graceful movements to the tune of Rasiya songs. The dance is performed on the Dooj of Holi.
This is the rich tradition of folksongs that is found in the Braj area. Rasiya songs describe the love of the divine couple Radha and Shri Krishna. It is an inseparable part of the Holi celebrations and all other festive occasions at Braj. The Rasiya is sung to the rhythm of huge drums, locally known as bumb.
Chikankari Embroidery Works
Chikankari is the delicate and traditional embroidery practiced in Lucknow and it’s environs. Chikan is a unique craft involving delicate and artistic hand embroidery on a variety of textile fabric like muslin, silk, chiffon, organza, doriya and organdi. There are 36 types of stitches used in chikan work. Chikan's light and gossamer like quality makes it very suitable for the hot climate. The light chikan saris and chikan kurtas are perfect summer wear.
The finely embroidered muslin came to be closely identified with the Nawabi culture and became an intrinsic part of it. The Chikankari tradition gradually spread among the common people. The source of most design motifs in Chikankari is Mughal. Though it originated as a court craft, today it is a practiced tradition and an important commercial activity.
Besides chikan work, the Zardoji and Kamdani works of Lucknow are also popular. These hand embroidery works with gold and silver thread are done on sarees, dupattas, lehengas, cholis, caps, shoes etc.
Zardoji Embroidery Works
Agra's Zardoji is very unique art of embroidery in three dimensions. The artist first makes free hand sketches of these subjects. Then he embroiders in cotton threads over and over till he gets the required thickness and movements. Finally the artist takes fibre from silk threads, twists then together in the shades required for and embroiders with them the particular piece. In the process he creates original unparallel work of art.
Banaras is world famous for hand-made textiles. The ancient traditions of weaving is well preserved in Banaras. The main products are Zari and brocades.
The zari thread known as 'kalabuttum', consists of finely drawn gold, silver or base metal threads wound round as silk thread. The deep red, golden zari saris are popular with almost all Indian brides. Kimkhabs, one of the best-known Varanasi brocades, have more zari work visible than silk. The design motifs of these brocades are intricate floral and foliage patterns. The brocades are woven in workshops known as 'karkhanas'. The weavers are mainly Muslim and are known as 'karigars' that means 'artist'.
Uttar Pradesh is the largest Brass and Copper producing state in India. In domestic-ware each of the 'lotas' (small water-pots) is known by the name of its origin, like Etawah, Banaras, Sitapur, etc. The ritual articles are largely in copper. Moradabad in U P is famous for art metalwork and known for it's coloured enamelling and intricate engravings. The art was handed down from the Mughal Era. They still continue to dominate the Indian market for engraved as well as utilitarian brass. Plates, cups, bowls, boxes and coffee pots are engraved with a range of floral and geometric patterns and these compositions are often inlaid with brightly coloured Lac or vegetable resin. The decorations may include scenes reminiscent of the style of Mughal painted miniatures, but also portray incidents from the Hindu Scriptures.
Glazed pottery with white background and blue and green patterns is developed in Khurja, Chunar and Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. UP produces some of the finest Chunar black clay pottery. This is inlaid with silver paint in intricate designs. The art that is perfected in Nizamabad, has high gloss and lustre derived from a powder called kabiz made from the mud of rice fields. Khurja is also well known for its cheap and tough tableware.
Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, has villages where clay figures of animals are done and is is famous for its ornately decorated terracotta horse. The potter creates the basic form by throwing separate pieces on the wheel and then joining them.
Carpets and Floor Coverings
Carpet weaving is one of the crafts in Uttar Pradesh. UP produces about 90 % of the country's carpets in and around Mirzapur, Bhadohi and Khamaria. These carpets are popular export items today. Agra in Uttar Pradesh is one of the old carpet centres of the Mughal days. It produces both the traditional as well as the new designs. In Shahjahapur, both cotton and woollen carpets are made. The designs are of the Old Persian style.
Lucknow is well known for its jewellery and enamelling work. Exquisite silverware's with patterns of hunting scenes, snakes and roses are very popular. The Bidri and Zarbuland silver works of Lucknow find expression on excellent pieces of huqqa farshi, jewel boxes, trays, bowls, cufflinks, cigarette holders, etc.
Renowned ivory and bone carvings with motifs of flowers, leaves, creepers, trees, birds and animals are widely produced in Lucknow. The master craftsmen create intricate items like knives, lampshades, shirt pins and small toys.
'Attars' or perfumes are also produced in Lucknow from the 19th century. The Lucknow perfumers experimented and succeeded in making attar with delicate and lasting fragrances those are made from various aromatic herbs, spices, sandal oil, musk, essence of flowers, and leaves. The famous Lucknow fragrances are khus, keora, chameli, zafran and agar.
The tradition of painting in Uttar Pradesh goes back to pre-historic times. The cave paintings of Sonbhadra and Chitrakoot depict scenes of hunting, war, festivals, dances, romantic life and animals.
The golden period of Painting in UP was the Mughal Era. The art of painting attained its peak during the reign of Jahangir. The Mughal style of painting remains one of the greatest achievements of Asian culture and is unique in its concept, presentation and style.
The art of painting reached the epitome of perfection in the area of Bundelkhand when the King of Orchha reconstructed the temple of Keshav Dev in Mathura. The walls of this temple are embellished with paintings depicting the life of Lord Krishna. The paintings of Mathura, Gokul, Vrindavan and Govardhan depict scenes from the life of Lord Krishna.
Another major pre-modern painting tradition of UP is known as the Garhwal School which was patronized by the Kings of Garhwal.
The 20th Century painting in UP has traditional and western influences. One of the most important events in the development of painting was the establishment of the Government College of Arts in Lucknow, which became the central point of Visual Arts in the State.
Madhya Desh was the land of the great sages and hermits and the singing of ancient hymns and mantras laid the basic tradition of music, which has blossomed into a musical tradition. The ages of Guptas and Harsh Vardhan were the peaks of music in Uttar Pradesh in the past.
The medieval age saw the emergence of two distinct strands of music. One was the court music that found patronage in the Courts like Agra, Fatehpur-Sikri, Lucknow, Jaunpur, Varanasi, Ayodhya, Banda and Datiya. The second was the religious tradition emerging from the Bhakti Cult rooted and flowered in centres like Mathura, Vrindavan and Ayodhya. Rulers and musicians from Uttar Pradesh contributed to the prosperity of Hindustani music.