I always knew that the vast and arid terrains of Kutch had a lot to offer to the adventure seeking junkies like me. Apart from the endless stretches of the great salt desert, Kutch is also home to 4 wildlife sanctuaries and a huge variety of migratory birds for birding enthusiasts. But it was while driving down to Bhuj from the village of Chorbadi (the epicenter of the massive 2001 Gujarat earthquake) that I came across this striking contradiction; of long stretches of freshly dyed yarn in bright hues of yellow, red, orange and blue sparkling in the dizziness of the bright sun but against the backdrop of a chapped grim and dusty brown earth. Ramji Meraya, my guide, then informed me that he was taking us to the artisan village of Bhujodi, home to weavers, tie-dye artists and block printers involved in textile handicraft production.
Bhujodi is 8 kms from Bhuj and is actually a base for artisans from all over Kutch (over 200 villages) to display their wares. These men and women belong to the local tribes who have inhabited these barren lands for centuries. For example the ‘Vankars’ or weavers who’ve lived here for over six centuries and were originally from neighbouring Rajasthan. It was here that Narayanbhai Seju, a carpet weaver from the ‘Vankar’ community invited us for a cup of tea (it was literally milky white) while his son showed us the process of weaving carpets on their family heirloom. The one Narayanbhai had just completed was bound to be shipped to a client in Finland!
|Narayanbhai Seju's family heirloom|
|Narayanbhai Seju's son working on their family heirloom|
|The carpet which will be off to Finland displayed here by Narayanbhai Seju's son|
Another shop at Bhujodi that I’d like to mention is that of Shamji Bhai. Shamji Bhai comes from an illustrious family of weavers and is a national award winner for textile embroidery. Some of the shawls he makes take over six-months to complete and orders need to be placed in advance. Money is generally not a criterion for those who indulge in such fineries!
Shrujan is an NGO venture that was started in 1969 by Chandaben Shroff who, who at that time, had gone as a volunteer to assist in a famine relief project. During her stay there, Chandaben realised the true potential of Kutchi art and handicraft and set up Shrujan. Among other things, it made the women of Kutch self reliant as profits from the sale of their handicraft was ploughed back into the society.
|Shrujan buys handicraft from the locals here and mostly exports them. There is a nice showroom here as well which is a few kilimeters from Bhujodi. It's mostly for the dollar paying crowd.|
|Tourists at Shrujan|
|A well decorated display area at Shrujan|
|A handicraft shop run by a local in the Shrujan compound|
Apart from shawls and carpets, there are emporiums cum shops that sell furniture with minute wooden carvings and just about two kilometers away is the
|Hiralaxmi Memorial Craft Park|
|Knives and daggers at display at the Hiralaxmi Memorial Craft Park|
My explorations further took me to a village called Dhamkada not very far away from Bhujodi. Here we stopped by at the residence cum workshop of Abdulrazzaq Mohammadbhai Khatri whose family has been practicing the craft of traditional Ajrakh block printing using natural dyes for over 10 generations! Natural dye refers to producing colours using natural materials instead of synthetic ones. Like producing rust colour by mixing some chana dal (split
|Abdulrazzaq Mohammadbhai Khatri at his workshop|
|The process of Ajrakh Block Printing at Abdulrazzaq Mohammadbhai Khatri's workshop|
Kutchi embroidery patterns are made up of innumerable microscopic designs that use a variety of geometrical shapes and figures using very fine needlework with utmost precision. It is these designs that actually find their way to the timeless Ghagra Cholis, Bandini sarees and Salwar Kurtas that sell like hotcakes in designer showrooms.
Kutchi embroideries and handicraft flourished in the erstwhile State of
Cutch prior to independence when it received state patronage from the Maharajas. And it was the women from the various tribes of Kutch who would produce useful articles while the men reared cattle. The profoundly ingrained tradition of gifting daughters embroidered articles for dowries also contributed to the flourish. The different communities also have their own distinct style of embroideries.
|A tribal woman|
|A tribal woman displaying her creation|
|Tribal woman displaying her embroidered piece|
Like the Ari embroidery largely practiced by the mochi (shoe maker) community which uses bold motifs of stylized flowers or dancing peacocks. Over here, the Ari craftswomen have improvised upon the usage of the awl which is plied from the top and a thread is fed from below. These patterns can be found on skirts, saree borders etc. Similarly, the embroidery practiced by women from the Ahir and Rabari communities seem alike but the Ahir embroidery focuses on only round mirrors used with multi-coloured threads. Other tribes include the Jats, Mutavas, Harijans and the Lohanas and are also engaged in the production of traditional handicraft.
I do realise my incompetency when it comes to forecasting fashion and the colours for the next season etc. But experiencing Kutchi handicraft has been a rewarding experience as via that I learnt so much about the habits and history of
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