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Kirat S Jul 17 2013

Which are the art forms that Kutch is famous for?

Kasturi Saikia Jul 17 2013
0 people found this answer useful Useful ?Yes

Hot and dry, a harsh land to inhabit, very sparsely populated, Kutch is nevertheless a fascinating place. This district in north-western Gujarat is effectively an island, with the Arabian Sea to its west, the Gulf of Kutch to its south and the Greater and Little Rann to the north and east. The many communities of Kutch — some of whom migrated here over the centuries — are known for their wealth of culture and handicrafts. The region also has an interesting history of trade links. It produces some of the world’s most unusual textile products and embroideries, as well as intricately crafted metal works. In the book, Kachchh: The Last Frontier, author Tejinder Singh Randhawa sums it up well: “The intricate embroidery stems from the Kutchi lifestyle... One can see the influences of the Cretan stitch of Greece, surface interlacing stitches from Armenia and the French tambouring techniques. It is a reflection of their lifestyle… of camels, peacocks, parrots, flowers, trees and women churning milk. Each pattern tells a story.”

It is these stories that visitors to Kutch can unravel. Not so much in the ruins of an earthquake-hit Bhuj, but in the tiny hamlets surrounding it is where people continue to weave, embroider and mould their dreams. As Bhuj (for Getting There, see page 674) is the headquarters of Kutch and well linked to the rest of India, it’s best to explore the region from there. Driving in Kutch is a pleasure. Smooth roads snake through the barren terrain like dry rivers. Hundreds of hectares of stark landscape contrast every now and then with colourful images of maldhari women. Dressed in embroidered reds and yellows, they pop up from nowhere as if defying the dusty brown of the terrain… like spots of mirage on a forlorn land.

[Many NGOs operate in villages here to preserve these crafts and provide the artisans a sense of pride in their culture along with monetary benefits. If you want to explore the villages, you can get in touch with these NGOs; they can also send someone to accompany you]

Bhujodi (10 km E of Bhuj)

Bhujodi is the centre of Vankars (weavers), who make Kutch’s famous woollen shawls, embroidered bedspreads and sofa covers. A ride from Kutch to Bhuj by car takes about an hour of travel time. Vankars migrated to Kutch from Marwar, in Rajasthan, several centuries ago. They developed interactions with the local Rabari community, who breed sheep, whose wool, shorn once a year, is sold to the Vankars, who in turn weave it into odhnis and other similar shawls. The shawls were traditionally made from the wool of white and black sheep, and natural dyes in five shades — black, red, green and indigo — were used. In the last decade, the design, texture and shape of the fabric has altered. Now the Vankars weave these miracles on traditional pit or shuttle looms using acrylic wool. The shawls then are tied and dyed by the Khatris who pass it on to the Rabari, Ahir and Abhla communities, who in turn, embroider them.

Shrujan (Tel: 02832-240272; Website: shrujan.org), an NGO in Bhujodi, works with local women to create apparel and home linen products that are decorated with the intricate embroidery styles of the region. Their office is located behind the GEB sub-station.

Sumrasar (25 km NE of Bhuj)

Sumrasar Sheikh is home to tribes that migrated from Sindh, bringing with them the craft traditions of that region. Specialists in intricate embroidery, artisans from this village create four traditional styles of embroidery: soof, khaarek, rabari and paako. Soof (or suf), meaning ‘triangle’, is one of the most difficult types of embroidery in the world, since patterns are not traced beforehand onto the fabric. Instead, the women imagine the designs, count the threads of warp and weft to ensure symmetry, and then put in their stitches. Khaarek embroidery is largely geometrical in appearance with colourful squares of vividly coloured thread in satin stitches that fill the entire fabric. The rabari style of embroidery uses the chain stitch to outline patterns and is liberally embellished with mirrors. In paako (meaning ‘full’, or ‘ripe’) style, the patterns are first drawn on to the fabric using a kind of mud and then filled in with a tight chain stitch and satin stitch. This style is so full that the backing fabric might actually thin out and fall away, but the embroidery will still hold.

Kala Raksha (Tel: 02808-277237-38; Website: kala-raksha.org), in Parkar Vas, can introduce you to the embroiderers.

Anjar (41 km SE of Bhuj)

Anjar, on the Bhuj-Gandhidham Road, is a settlement that traces its origins to an ancient maritime trade route. It’s said to have been founded by Ajepal, brother of the king of Ajmer, in 805 CE. In the 16th century, it came under the sway of the local chieftan Khengarji (1548- 1585). In 1815, the British occupied it and retained it till 1822 when an earthquake hit the region and Anjar was razed to the ground. This town is famous for silver jewellery and metal crafts. The 2001 earthquake nearly wiped out the town’s population again and with it, its craftsmen. Anjar’s silver is obtained from local sources and is handcrafted. These craftsmen produce an array of exquisite ornaments, like the choki (a rectangular necklace), toda (anklets) and wadlo (spring-pendants). Anjar is also known for its metal crafts, especially betelnut crackers and pen-knives. The Khatris of Anjar for years have specialised in tie-and-dye and block printed textiles using natural dyes.

Though not located in Anjar, the Khamir Craft Resource Centre (Tel: 02832-271272/422; Website: khamir. org) works with a lot of artisans in the area and can possibly send someone along with you to the villages. The centre is located at Lakhond Chowkri, behind BMCB Social City, Kukma.

Nirona (40 km NW of Bhuj)

Nirona is a typically dusty small town with houses almost kissing each other. The town’s population includes potters, leather workers and weavers known as Meghwals. Prominent among the crafts here are the handcrafted copper bells, tied traditionally by maldharis on the necks of cattle. These have now taken the shape of rhythmic wind chimes. Then there is Rogan art, a unique fine painting on cloth using natural gum, and neatly carved and embroidered leather works. Also, there are the exquisite Kutch textiles.

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