Sanjhi (hand-cut stencils for patterning)

Country: India

Talismanic symbols and patterns invoking protection and wish-fulfillment are created on floors, courtyards and entrances with rice paste and dry colored powders across India. Their names include kolam, mandana, rangoli, alpona and aipan. The patterns draw on local customs and traditions. Among these continuing traditions is the unusual temple-floor patterning of Sanjhi in Uttar Pradesh.

Initiated in the seventeenth century by the followers of the Pushti-marg Vaishnavite sect, elaborate depictions of episodes from the life of the Hindu god Krishna are patterned on the floor within the temple precincts of Vrindavan and Barsana in Uttar Pradesh. Hand cut paper stencils, the sancha, form the tools of the trade. Skilled craftsmen sift powdered colors through the open cuts of the stencil. The work is difficult as a breath of air can displace the powders and distort the image. Lifting the stencils is as complicated as any slips can result in smudging. The laying of the sanjhi starts at dawn and is unveiled for the auspicious public viewing at sanjh (the twilight hour), when it is worshiped with ritual offerings and prayer by the devotees. This elaborate creation is then as carefully effaced and the colors immersed in the flowing waters of the Yamuna River.



Outside the temple tradition, sanjhi is practised by Ram Soni in Alwar, Rajasthan and Vijay Kumar Verma’s family in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. Their elaborate and detailed paper-cuts are now the focus of the craft and not the ephemeral floor images. What was once considered the tool of their trade—the hand-cut stencil—is now central to the creative process and its final product. Using only a single customised scissor, they cut the intricate and complex designs for use as screens and room dividers, lamp-shades, wall hangings, wedding cards, coasters and an array of other products for a widening customer base.