Have you ever tried folding a paper into a square, folding it again and snipping off the corners? Open it and you find pretty patterns of holes throughout the paper.
Sanjhi craft is somewhat like this, except stencils are used to make definite designs on paper and the cutting is done with special scissors. Primarily these stencils were made to draw rangoli patterns on the floor. They are placed on flat surfaces, or water, where the rangoli has to be drawn. Dry colors are then sifted onto the surface. Placing the colours evenly over the stencils is a work of art and lifting the stencil off the surface also requires skill. Peacocks, bullock carts, horses, cows, butterflies and trees are some of the common motifs used. The intricate craftsmanship reflects the artist’s devotion and the intimate love for Lord Krishna. An elaborate Sanjhi design could take anywhere between an hour and a month to produce.
Primarily the art of sanjhi making whether it is a folk or temple tradition are directed towards worship. Goddess Sanjhi is venerated, and prayer offered to her. It is a labour of love, when after the worship, one sanjhi is effaced and another one created. The term Sanjhi is derived from the Hindi word sandhya, the period of dusk with which the art form is typically associated. It was Radhe, who it is said, made Sanjhi rangolis using natural colors, to impress Krishna. Sanjhi has been popular ever since, and during the Mughal period, contemporary themes were introduced for greater perspective.
Sanjhi making is prominent in Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, both in homes and the temples, and the designs related to Sri Krishna’s life. The peak period is in September and October when pilgrims flock from all over India, to particular sites, of the Krishna Temples, and the Sanjhi creations are placed in specific places in the temples. One traditional sanjhi at Goverdhan is the image of Sri Krishna lifting the mountain with his finger, and another of him playing with the gopikas. Once the rituals are over, the papers and material are thrown into the river.
The art of cutting paper using stencils, is also taken up by unmarried girls in the hope of getting a good husband, a temple tradition of the 17th Century, and apart from being practised in Vrindavan it is also done in a single temple in Barsana, Radha’s village.
A languishing craft, it was revived by the Delhi Crafts Council, when the remaining few artistes were traced, and a newer set of people were trained in the craft. Sanjhi craft was shifted from the traditional to the contemporary mode, where it is converted into framed pictures, coasters, lampshades etc, so that a new market is thrown open.