Against the vast arid desert of Kutch what catches your attention is the splash of colours worn by the nomads and tribals. The handicraft villages of Kutch have a treasure trove of attractions with myriad colours, textures and ornamentation and are a must-visit for culture and art connoisseurs. Steeped in history that dates to the Indus Valley Civilization these traditional handcrafted products are not just great collectables, but they also provide a glimpse of the region’s rich culture and topography. Set off on a handicraft trail to explore the best of Kutch handicrafts and witness the making of these diverse art forms as artisans painstakingly demonstrate their craft.
SUMRASAR where ‘Stitches Speak’
At the heart of this village is Kala Raksha a social enterprise that is engaged in hand embroidery preservation. After the 2001 earthquake that ravaged Kutch, the tribal women made applique narratives as a medium of self-expression and a source of livelihood. Women don’t trace patterns on fabric but count the warp and weft and use their imagination to embroider intricate patterns on sarees, dupattas, stoles and other items. Each piece is a unique work of art whether Suff, Khaarek, Paako, Rabari or Mutava and takes weeks to months to complete. Do visit their museum where more than 40 types of embroidery styles not just from Kutch in India but from neighbouring countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and so on have been painstakingly researched and catalogued. They also have an outlet from where you can pick exclusive products that have the traditional embroidery but have been contemporized to suit modern sensibilities and taste.
NIRONA which has a White House connection
This village is known for its Rogan Art, copper bells and lacquer making. The walls of the White House have a Rogan art painting which was gifted to former U.S. President Barack Obama by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Gafoorbhai Khatri and his family have been instrumental in safeguarding this 300-year-old art form which frequently features peacocks, floral motifs and Tree of Life. A Khatri family member will gladly demonstrate this art by mixing castor oil and natural dyes and use a metal stick, instead of a paintbrush, to make intricate designs and patterns on fabric.
If you want to see pieces of scrap metal being transformed into bells which chime to the tunes of Sa Re Ga Ma, then do visit an artisan’s workshop from the Lohar community here. Traditionally herders tied these bells around the necks of cattle to keep track of them but now they have been ingeniously used to make wind chimes, artefacts, doorbells and even keychains.
The Vadha Community of Norana uses lac or lacquer, obtained from an insect resin, to adorn the kitchenware like spoons, spatulas, rolling pins. The heat generated due to the hand turning of a lathe melts the lacquer on wooden products creating psychedelic designs or patterns. Tribal women sell dolls made with rags of leftover embroidered fabric, tribal jewellery and other knick-knacks here.
BHIRANDIYARA for the Tropic of Cancer
This village is known for its mava, a concentered milk product, which is used to make Indian sweets or mithais. The Tropic of Cancer passes near this village so do stop for a photo opportunity. Step into the architectural marvels of Bhungas, traditional circular homes with thatched roofs, where despite the blazing summer you will find them cool and refreshing. Watch the artisans create magic with thread and needle and pick and choose from a potpourri of embroidered garments, bandhani dupattas, patchwork quilts, footwear, bags and other gewgaws.
LUDIYA or GANDHI NU GAM for a mélange of handicrafts
Dressed in the colourful traditional attire of ghagra and mirror work kanjari blouses the women and girls from the Meghwal community will welcome you to their bhungas and cajole you to buy their wares. The village ‘otalo’ or square is where they assemble to sell a mix of embroidered garments, tribal jewellery, woollen shawls, woodwork and other paraphernalia.
KHAVDA VILLAGE for embroidery and applique work
Qasab an NGO known for its exquisite hand embroidery and patchwork products like handmade dolls, cushions, quilts, handbags, fashion accessories and so on is located here. The traditional embroidery designs have been used on an array of products with a contemporary twist in terms of the patterns, choice of colours and style to suit the urban palette. The prices are steep, but they have an exclusive collection to die for.
AJRAKHPUR for hand block printed fabrics
TheAjrakh block printing, which came to Kutch from across the border more than 400 years ago, is believed to date back to the Indus Valley civilization. Using natural colours derived from indigo, henna, turmeric, pomegranate, iron and mud it takes 16 different processes to make this highly-skilled, gorgeous fabric. Do visit Ismail Khatri’s workshop where you can witness the block printing process. Pick some Ajrakh stoles, dupattas and mufflers which have even featured on the catwalks during fashion weeks. The Living and Learning Design Centre (LLDC) run by Shrujan Trust comprising of museums, studios and a hands-on gallery where you can try your hand at these art forms is another attraction here.
KUKMA VILLAGE where artisans spin wheels of magic
Khamir, a not-for-profit organization, provides a platform for promoting and conversing the rich crafts of Kutch be it the bandhani tie and die, pottery, block-printing, kala cotton or recycled plastic products is a must-visit here. Chat with Rabari women as they clean the kala cotton, native to Kutch, and then spin it into yarns on a charkha. Watch plastic bags being recycled and woven on pit looms to make fancy mats, bags and other products. Do pick the kala cotton products here as they are genuine and not readily available elsewhere.
BHUJODI the Delhi Haat of Kutch.
Located 8 km from Bhuj this village is a favourite of tourists, as well as locals for shops here, sell handcrafted items at cheaper rates compared to Bhuj. During the Navratri festival, people are known to come from Ahmedabad, Rajkot and other neighbouring cities to shop for chaniya cholis, kedias and other stuff. Ahead of Bhujodi is the Hira Laxmi Park where a platform has been provided for the artisans to showcase their wares. If you don’t have the time to visit all the handicraft villages then this is your one-stop village to see a kaleidoscope of the several craft forms. The Shrujan store near Bhujodi has an impressive collection of hand-embroidered sarees, stoles, dupattas and other trendy outfits.
This article was first published on http://rajasthanroutestrails.blogspot.com/2019/12/