Chamba Rumal: Needle, Thread, and Tradition

Chamba Rumaal gets its name from the Chamba Hill Station in Himachal Pradesh. For many of us, a rumaal or a hankerchief is often seen as a plain, ordinary piece of cloth that we carry to wipe our faces and hands. However, make no mistake, because Chamba Rumal is no ordinary item. This exquisite item is the result of impeccable needlework on khadar or muslin cloth, skillfully crafted by the queen and the royal ladies of Chamba during their leisure moments. It stands as a representative example of the miniature style paintings affiliated with the Pahari School from 17th-century Himachal Pradesh. The inspiration for Chamba Rumal was drawn from Basohli. Once patronized by the former rulers of Chamba, this handicraft flourished between the 18th and 20th centuries. The motifs adorning these handkerchiefs are diverse, capturing indigenous tales of the hills and epic narratives from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. 

These 'rumaals,' adorned with meticulous detailing and exquisite embroideries, served primarily as ornate coverlets for gifts during wedding ceremonies. The exchange of these rumals between the families of the bride and groom symbolized goodwill.

Upon closer examination of the intricate patterns and styles of Chamba Rumaal, it becomes evident that their significance is profound and should not be underestimated. In the context of that era, the women involved in crafting Chamba Rumal were not merely engaging in pastime; rather, echoing Zadie Smith's insights on women in domestic roles, they were essentially "constructing an architecture for life."


As discussed earlier, the origin of Chamba Rumal can be traced back to the hilly region of Chamba, known for its abundant flora and fauna throughout history. Hence, it comes as no surprise that highland botanicals play a crucial role in Chamba embroidery. The bright color palette and bold color schemes employed in the process accentuate the overall beauty of the craft. However, that's not all; a comprehensive array of motifs is extensively incorporated and showcased by the Chamba artists:

1.Rasamandala: Rasmadala typically depicts 4-armed Vishnu and Lakshmi, seated on a double-petalled lotus. They are surrounded by adoring monkeys, with five blue-skinned  Krishnas dancing around them and gopis in the background. The spaces are filled with musicians and flowering shrubs, creating a visually appealing scene. 

2. Shikaar: This theme represents the hunting acts of royalty and feudal lords. It also includes depiction of  various prey animals, weapons, vibrant flora and fauna and the act of hunting in the wild. The use of the variegated colors adds to the richness of the embroidery. 

3. Ashtanayika: Ashtanayika is the central theme in the Pahari embroidery, representing the 8 nayikas (heroines) in different states of emotions or avasthas concerning their heroes or nayaks. The embroidery captures these moods through the various expressions and gestures of the nayikas reflecting the range of emotions experienced by the heroines in their relationships.

4. Radha and Krishna: The divine love of Radha and Krishna as recounted in the lyrical Geet-Govinda scenes by the 12th-century poet Jayadeva, is a favorite theme of Chamba Rumal.One notable scene includes a pavilion where Radha and Krishna’s divine romance unfolds. The pavilion scene adds to the beauty and charm of Chamba Rumal embroidery. 

5. Ganesha: The elephant headed deity is a highly revered and popular figure in the Hindu pantheon. In Chamba Rumal, Ganesha is often depicted in a seated position on a lotus, with his four arms holding all the symbolic elements. His vehicle, the mouse and the surrounding trees and shrubs enhance the depiction of the beloved deity.

Apart from these themes that are readily found in the Chamba Rumal paintings, are also the other episodes from Ramayana and Bhagavad Puranas. We can find figures of Krishna accompanying gopis, scenes of Godhuli (sunset), Himachali women carrying pots in their heads, which provides a vivid portrayal of the daily life of the Chamba people. Local folk stories that include Gaddi Gaddan, Rajwar wedding scene, Ved Vedi, wedding pavilion/mandap have been enriching the artwork since its inception. It is thus evident that these motifs range from the lives of the local Pahari people to episodes from ancient Hindu epics.


The Process

The basic process of creating a Chamba can be summarized into four steps:

1. Theme Planning: The initial stage entails the deciding of thematic elements that will be  incorporated into the embroidered.

2. Outline Sketching: The artisan begins by outlining designs using charcoal or an incisive pencil dipped in a black ink , providing the basic framework for the intricate embroidery.

3. Color Palette Selection: During this process, the color scheme for the Chamba Rumal is carefully chosen, ensuring that it complements the overall design.

4. Embroidery Process: The final and the most crucial step involves the actual embroidery, where vibrant silk threads are skillfully applied to the charcoal designs to bring the Chamba Rumal to life.

Once the artist completes the drawing, the craftswoman begins embroidering the contours and spaces. Care is taken to employ appropriate color combinations in the process. The needlework technique used here is double-darning or do-rukh, creating a double-sided effect on both sides of the fabric.

Actively practiced until the 20th century, the diminishing support from the royal quarters led to the gradual decline of the art in the 20th century. In recent times, revival efforts by NGOs and the government have contributed to bringing the art into the limelight. Today, this art form, traditionally cherished by the royal ladies of Chamba, is being crafted by miniature art experts.



1. Dey, S. (2017, April 11). The Little Known Story of Himachal Pradesh’s Unique Handkerchiefs That Were Embroidered by Queens. The Better India. 

2. Chamba Rumal: The Embroidery Art of Himachal Pradesh | Sahapedia. (n.d.). Sahapedia. 

3. The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Himachal PLUS. (n.d.). 

4. Dasgupta, R. R. (2010, April 4). Unfurling a new life for Chamba rumals. The Economic Times.

5. Pedia, T. U. (2017, May 2). Chamba Embroidery. Utsavpedia. 

6. Chamba Rumal Embroidery of Himachal Pradesh – Asia InCH – Encyclopedia of Intangible Cultural Heritage. (n.d.). Asia InCH – Encyclopedia of Intangible Cultural Heritage - Open Educational Resource on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Traditional Arts, Crafts and Textiles and Their Practitioners and Transmitters in South Asia. 

7. In Conversation with Chamba Rumal Artists: Evolution, Revival and Future | Sahapedia. (n.d.). Sahapedia.



Leave a comment