Friday, April 26, 2013

Fashion @ Kutch: Get to know where your embroideries come from

I'm really happy to announce that we are starting with a new series on the blog covering the ethnic and traditional aspects of Indian fashion and crafts. It will take us back to our rich cultural heritage from thousands of years ago and how the industry is doing in today's world. The first in the series is on the region of Kutch and our guest blogger is Shashank Shekhar who is a former journalist and who now writes about his travels on

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!

Shamji Bhai displaying one of his creations at his shop

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, built especially for the artisans to display their wares free of cost to the visitors. Here the goodies on display are affordable and depending on your luck you can even stumble upon some really cool handmade swords and daggers crafted by the artisans from Anjar (traditional knives and sword makers)!

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 Bengal gram) and gur (jaggery) in water with a submerged iron block. Ferment it for about three days and there you have your naturally produced rust colour ready! Abdulrazzaq has thousands of such tricks up his sleeve. The secrets passed over from one generation to another. His workshop is also a frequent haunt of fashion design students from NID & NIFTs.

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. 

Rabari women
Ahir embroidery

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 Kutch’s indigenous folks. And if you’re one of those who has it on your fingertips what a Jennifer Lawrence wore on the red carpet at the Oscars this year or precisely how will you differentiate between a Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Ritu Kumar and a Tarun Tahiliani creation then perhaps this is a story for you…Godspeed!!

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1 comment:

  1. Hey, I am from Kutch and have seen all this work..well covered..nice pics :)


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