The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to

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Although Kutch in Gujarat is an archaeological site, it also is a romantic blend of history, art and vivid colour.

Situated on the northwest Indian border, the region draws artistic inspiration from cultures of the north, west, and east of India. This fusion of traditions shapes the identity of Kutch and is reflected in the handicrafts that draw thousands of visitors to its artisan villages.

Kutch is renowned for the art and crafts collections that represent the culture of the Kutchi people and their lifestyle. The unique artisan villages showcase the work of the region’s innovative and entrepreneurial artists who are constantly developing and growing their craft. What is immediately evident, is that handicrafts are an integral part of the lives of Kutchi people.

The villages are widespread and it’s impossible to visit them all in a day – but some standout locations are worth a stopover for a sample of their handiwork.

 Embroidery in Hodka

Deep in the desert, Hodka is popular for its authentic village vibe, its leather crafts and embroidery work. Hodka is home to the Meghwal community who produce leather goods, embossed with bright colours and geometric patterns. A cluster of artisan families live and work in a group of twenty mud huts with  thatched roofs called Bhunga and produce colourful Banni embroidery.

Each exclusive piece of embroidery glows in bright hues of red, green, yellow, and myriad other shades, along with chain-stitched mirrorwork. On sale are patchwork appliqued quilts, home furnishings, apparel, jewellery made from clothes, mirror work, and trinkets handcrafted by women and children.

When tourists arrive, the villagers rush to display their handiwork, while the children, especially the girls, try hard to convince their visitors to make a purchase.

Interestingly, the women, who are clad in heavily embroidered, brightly colored mirror-work outfits, prefer to  avoid the camera.

The whole village setting and traditional garb worn by the artisans seems almost like a scene from a film, depicting the everyday life of village folk.

Rogan Art In Nirona

The village of Nirona is 45 minutes from Hodka.

Nirona is famous for its Rogan art, copper bells, and kitchen ware. The village was in the spotlight when Indian PM Narendra Modi gave President Barack Obama Rogan art work as a gift.

The Khatri family has produced Rogan art for eight generations. Today only ten members of the Gafoor bhai Khatri clan continue keep this tradition alive and remain passionately involved with the Rogan art form.

Rogan art is rendered with a special paint made from the oil of castor seeds, a plant that grows abundantly in the area. Artists dip a metal needle into vibrant shades of oil-based paint to imprint designs on fabric. Only five mineral-based colours are prepared and kept in water; other colours are created by mixing them with each other.

Rogan designs were originally used to decorate bridal gowns, but now embellish everything from skirts to wall hangings and file holders.

Copper Bells Of Nirona

Copper bell art, a thousand year- old art form,  is also a Nirona specialty. Originally, these bells – each with a unique sound –  were made to hang around the necks of cattle so their herders could identify them. Today artisans repurpose scrap metal, beating rectangular sheets and locking them into shape without any welding.

Copper bells (source: footloose dev)

Hussain Siddiqui’s family has been making copper bells for seven generations.

“Creating different sounds is what matters most, and only my experience helps me in this,” says 75-year-old  Siddiqui.

He has created Sargam notes, bird voices, musical instrument voices, and, of course, door bells for wind chimes.

Lacquer Woodcraft In Nirona

Lacquered wood is another artform that is thriving in Nirona. The Wadha family practices this tradition, making lacquered wood objects with lac extracted from a kind of ‘ber’, and mixed with colours obtained from nature. They make a variety of products including rollers, boxes and ladles.

Lacquer art (source: footloose dev)

Only real lac is used explains Lalji Mala Wadha. “Coloured lacquer is applied to wood by heat through turning with a hand lathe.” Then, patterns in kaleidoscopic designs are created with an application of different coloured lacquers and finished with groundnut oil to give it a shine.

BlockPrinting In Ajrakh Pur

Ajrakh Art (image: Suman Bajpai)

Ajrakh – a form of block printing on fabric – arrived with Sind Muslims 400 years ago, and gave its name to Ajrakhpur village.

At Sufiyana Ismail Khatri’s enormous workshop, piles of unfinished fabrics and sarees are strewn about. Ajrakh  means “Aaj Rakh” (keep it today),” says Khatri, and it’s also linked to the Arabic word for indigo, a blue plant.

Ajrakh art, Ismail Khatri (photo courtsey Suman Bajpai)

Creating an Ajrakh design involves a complex process of washing, dyeing, printing, and drying fabric in sixteen steps. Then, “across lengths of cloth, geometrical patterns are created,” says Khatri.  He uses only natural, organic components like pomegranate seeds, gum, harde powder, wood, Kachika flour, flower of Dhavadi, alizarine, and locally cultivated Indigo. Nothing synthetic is used. “We are still trying to maintain the use of natural resources. That’s why our art is in demand, “said Khatri.

Pitloom Weaving In Bhujodi

In Bhujodi, a 500-year-old village that’s the centre for pitloom weaving, you will find carpets, shawls, stoles, bedcovers, and placemats.

Around 200 weavers live here; most belong to the Rabari and Vankars communities.

Weaver Rajore Bhai said that his wife was working at high speed to prepare the warp thread on a wooden frame called ‘chaukhta’. Weaving a piece could take anywhere from days to months, depending on the complexity and style of the design. Over time, the looms have evolved, but the basic structure is the same, although the motifs are traditional.

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Suman Bajpai

Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 17 books on different subjects and translated around 160 books from...