If arid, harsh desert lands propagate the most wonderful
craft traditions in the country, Kachchh
is a living testimony to it. It is like man trying to compensate for
nature's neglect. In the midst of the innumerable chores of daily
existence the women folk set aside a few hours for embroidering the most
vibrant, fine and varied collection of embroidery in the country.
PAINITING WITH NEEDLES :
If any one deserves the credit of adding, a touch of exotic colour to the monochromatic desert scapes of the Rann of Kachchh and the arid semi desert scrubby grasslands of Banni, it is the embroiderers. The embroidery of Kachchh is very picturesque and has the quality of jewellery.
An inexplicable bond weaves nature and the Kachchhi together. Using simple materials the craftsmen create objects of great beauty, filling their lives and the bleak surroundings with infinite beauty. Kachchh is known for its distinctive traditional crafts, from embroidery to jewellery-making and carving.
The Kachchhi crafts however range from block printing on textiles, bandhni of the khatris, to the exquisite beadwork of Rabari women. Some of the villages and communities have specialised for generation in certain crafts and thereby create masterpieces that delight a connoisseur.
A few of them are the Sodha embroidery from Loriya village, Patch work of Bhirandiyara, the extremely detailed Mochi embroidery, the Rabari embroidery from Nana Nakhatrana, the leather creations by Meghwal artisans, the very famous silver work on precious metals of Bhuj and Anjar, besides traditional wood and lacquer work and Rogan, the extremely fine lacquer work on cloth produced by the artisans of Chobari and Nirona villages. Dhordo is known for its wood-carving.
EMBROIDERY: A BRILLIANT SKILL
Kachchh owes much of its fame today to its embroidery. Much of the most colourful in Gujarati embroidery belongs to Kachchh. With a needle for a paintbrush, the Kachchhi woman gives expression to her creativity and proclaims her oneness with nature by churning out beautifully embroidered pieces.
The folk embroidery of Kachchh is an ongoing and dynamic tradition. The most interesting aspect of the whole process is that needlework and embroidery traditions are preserved and propagated by almost every community, caste and sub- group in Kachchh.
The finest needlework today comes from the many communities living in the Banni tract of Kachchh district. The women of different communities in Kachchh have their distinct styles, the most distinctive being that of the Rabari community of Kachchh. The finest example of their applique work can be seen on the decorative hanging which covers the entrance of houses in Kachchh
EMBROIDERY IN LEATHER:
It is a common art form of the Kachchh region of Gujarat. The northern villages of Dhordo, Khavda and Hodko are home to the few remaining communities of leather embroiderers who soak hide in a solution of water, latex and lime in an underground earthen pot before stitching it with flower, peacock and fish motifs. The finished bags, fans, horse belts, wallets, cushion covers and mirror frames are sold in villages all through the region.
AJRAKH: A UNIQUE PRINTING METHOD
Khavda is one of the last villages to continue the printing method known as 'ajrakh'. Cloth is dyed with natural pigments in a lengthy process similar to batik, but instead of wax, a mixture of lime and gum is used to resist the dye in certain parts of the cloth when new colours are added.
Women in Khavda paint terracotta pots with dusky whites, reds and blacks, using cotton rags and brushes made from bamboo leaves.
Rogan painting is now practised only in Biber in northern Kachchh. Hand-pounded castor oil is turned into coloured dyes by a complex process, which are then used to decorate cushion covers, bedspreads and curtains with simple geometric patterns.
Craftsmen also make melodic bells coated in intricate designs of copper and brass, which were once used for communication among shepherds.
SILVER JEWELLERY & ENGRAVING:
Silver jewellery is common, featuring in most traditional Kachchhi costumes. The anklets, earrings, nose-rings, bangles and necklaces are similar to those seen in Rajasthan , since much of it is made by the Ahir and Rabari communities who live in both areas. In Kachchh, the silver is mixed with zinc to make it more malleable, and converted into wires and sheets. The main centres for silver are Anjar, Bhuj, Mandiri and Mundra.
Kachchhi silver engraving is a dwindling art form, practised mainly in Bhuj. Molten silver is poured into a mould, and, when dry, engraved by gentle taps with fine, sharp tools and small hammers. The final products, such as trays, pots, cups, pens and picture frames, are smoothed down and polished in an acid solution.
The most common form of cloth printing is 'bandhani', or 'tie-&-dye', practised in most villages, but concentrated in Mandvi and Anjar. Kachchhi clothes are distinctive for their fine embroidery and bold designs.
One design unique to the area is 'mushroo'-weaving ('ilacha'), a skill practised today by less than twenty artisans. The yarn used is silk, carefully dyed before it is woven in a basic striped pattern, with a complex design woven over the top in such fine detail that it seems to be embroidered. 'Ilacha' cloth, made into 'cholis' (blouses) and dresses, is hard to buy now; the best place to see it is Mandvi, or in the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad .