Delhi designer’s craft inspired by northeast

By Azera Rahman, IANS
Thursday, February 17, 2011

NEW DELHI - How about a pair of spoons shaped like Naga spears? Designer Ritu Varuni has come up with a range of artefacts that have a touch of traditional northeastern craft and yet are contemporary in design. She hopes to create sustainable

livelihoods for craftsmen in the region.

Her brand, E’thaan, is a Naga word meaning new. Although based in Delhi, Varuni’s romance with the northeast began when she was very young.

“My love for the northeast began when I was in Class 10 and my father decided to take the whole family for a vacation to Manipur. As I grew, my love for the place grew. I realised that although all the states are often clubbed together as northeast, each is very distinct with its own identity,” Varuni told IANS.

As the years rolled by, she kept going back to the region and in 1991 she did her thesis on Nagaland. “I feel like my life is intertwined with the Brahmaputra,” she smiled.

After studying architecture, Varuni focussed her work on research and development of bamboo as a material for craft in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Nagaland for several years. Finally, in 2004, she launched her own design brand E’thaan.

“At E’thaan, we work with traditional crafts, but give it a contemporary spin so that it is more marketable. Craft was part of daily life in all Indian tribal communities and artisans were patronised by the royalty. But slowly, due to change in lifestyle, craft lost its patronage and with that came the end of livelihood for many,” Varuni said.

“Our attempt is to change the scenario and is based on fair trade principles and natural materials. Here, the artisan’s skill and designer’s creativity come together. We sit with the craftsmen and discuss the designs. So the craft is protected and the craftsman gets his due,” she added.

Some of the crafts at E’thaan are tableware like cane ice tongs, wooden tortoise coasters, trivet and napkin holders, furniture like beds, side cabinets, chairs and shelves, Naga bamboo lamps, accessories and potteries.

However, E’thaan’s crafts have not been limited to the northeast. Sanjhi or the ancient art of cutting paper stencils and wood block carving of Uttar Pradesh, walnut wood carving of Kashmir, wood jaali carving of Delhi, black pottery of Rajasthan and Tankha painting - an old Buddhist art form popular in Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, also form part of the collection.

While the products are displayed at the brand’s store in Defence Colony in south Delhi, other brands like Fab India also source some of their products from it. Its designs are also displayed in exhibitions.

“Traditional craft in the northeast is its strength. My aim is to create a sustainable means of livelihood for craftsmen so that their skills will remain alive, forever,” Varuni said.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at

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