The crafts of Kutch

With the Rann Utsav on, I thought it was time to look back on my holiday in Kutch in the winter of 2012 – and what a long time ago it feels. We stayed at the lovely Devpur homestay and travelled around Kutch. And the highlight of the holiday for me was the time I spent at the villages, chatting with the locals, looking at the local craft – the Rann Utsav itself was nothing much to speak of.

Here then, some glimpses into the traditional craft of Kutch… Our first stop was at Nirona village, home to lacquerwork, bell and metal work, and the very unique Rogan art. Most of these are family occupations and are still carried out in the confines of a house. Men and women both participate in the activity, either in the actual production or the marketing (except the Rogan art, which is practised by Muslim families, where the women seemed to stay away from the public eye).

First stop, a home where lacquer craft was being produced. Currently there are 25 – 30 families in the Banni region who produce lacquerware, which means colouring hand-carved wooden items with resin obtained from trees. The lac is applied and polished to a smooth glazed finish on a variety of products, from kitchen ladles to little jewellery boxes. And of course, I wanted to buy them all, and had to dragged away kicking and screaming, by the husband. Ah, well.

Lacquer1

Lacquer2

And next, the home of the copper bell maker. Our driver said that copper bells used to be tied to the necks of cattle – our own version of Swiss cowbells! The Lohar community, originally from Sindh, are the bell makers of Nirona (some also live in Zura village).

I bought a smiling sun here, with tiny bells hanging under it. And just as I stepped out of the home, I stopped the matriarch, who smiled and waved at me.

Metal1

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Metal3

The final stop at Nirona was the most fascinating: one of the few homes which practised the unique Rogan art. You will notice that all my photographs here are of hands painting these intricate designs – I just could not take my eyes off towards that”big picture.” The art is 400 years old and of Persian origin, in which pigments are mixed with castor oil to get a sticky paint. hat is applied on cloth using a thin metal stick called a ‘kalam’ (pen).

The motifs are motley floral, the most popular of them being the ‘tree of life.’ The Rogan art process is time-consuming and painstaking, therefore it is not surprising that it is in danger of dying. Read more about it here

Rogan1

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If you have time – why, make the time – to drop in at the Kala Raksha centre at Sumrasar Sheikh village, a museum built in the traditional manner of Kutchi homes, and dedicated to the preservation of local craft, especially hand embroidery.

From the museum website: To orient the viewer to embroidery traditions of Kutch, the exhibition panels are structured as a series of questions:

1. What did the embroideries express?
2. Why Did women Embroider?
3. The Wedding Ceremony
4. How did they Use Embroidered Pieces?
5. What are Embroidery Styles?
6. How Else Did Women Decorate Themselves?

KalaRaksha1

KalaRaksha2

Or visit the Khamir Craft Resource Centre at Kukma village to see local block prints including the beautiful Ajrakh and Batik.

Finally, my absolute favourite, women embroidering – the most common scene across Kutchi villages. Any time of the day, women – and girls – seem to be at work with thread and needle, and bits of colourful cloth. heads bent, hands go up and down, even as a shy smile plays on their lips. Each community has a different kind of embroidery, detailed here on the Shrujan website.

Embroidery1

Embroidery2

Embroidery3

Embroidery4

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Also see: Portraits from Kutch and Inside a bhunga

Memories of an Agashiye meal

Red wallsThere are Gujarati thalis and there are Gujarati thalis and then there is Agashiye. According to the website, Agashiye means ‘on the terrace’ – and so it is.

Part of the House of MG in old Ahmedabad, Agashiye has khatiya seating in an open terrace and more formal tables inside. It is a bright and colourful space, with painted wooden puppets hanging from the ceiling. There are stone urulis scattered around, filled with fragrant flowers and in the mild December sun, it seemed like the perfect place to be.

A marigold welcome

The staircase

Hanging HanumanI have heard very good things about the House of MG – built in 1924 – but since we were not staying there, I was not able to look inside. But from what I could see on the way up to Agashiye – plenty of flowers, cheerful sunlight, lovely old stairs – it is a place I’d definitely like to stay at some time. We climbed up the three floors, admiring the clever use of glass bangles as lamp shades, and enter the terrace, to find a reclining Ganesha.

Reclining Ganesha

It was only when we walked out after the meal that I realized that like us, he must have stuffed himself silly at Agashiye and could barely move.

On the terrace

All Gujarati thali places are known to serve so much food that diners have to finally beg the waiters to stop feeding them any more. And that’s exactly what happened in Agashiye – except that the waiter who served us was super friendly and had a great sense of humour. And oh, he did laugh at the clear struggle between greed and prudence we were going through.

First came the fresh juice and a plate of mini kachoris stuffed with green peas. Then a plate with cups of pickles, slices of lemon, chunda and a whole cup of butter in the centre. And then the food – rotis and a variety of dals and sabji and an unending supply of hot jalebi (that I would never complain about). “Keep space for ice cream – it’s freshly made” – our waiter kept reminding us periodically, even as he ladled more food on to our plates.

Fried sin

Pickles that tickle

The service

The thali

The jalebis

For me, a meal that deserves five stars – not just for the quality of food but the service and the decor as well. A meal well worth looking forward to having again.

Inside a bhunga

After portraits from Kutch, some glimpses into their home, the round huts known as bhunga. These huts built of mud are beautifully decorated on the outside and inside, and look like living museums. In fact, some villages have taken to making a model bhunga towards the entrance to their village, just as a showcase of their way of life. And in Hudko, I learnt that a few of the villagers had gone to a crafts festival in Leipzig, Germany and recreated a bhunga there.

And why not? Traditional bhungas, built with the knowledge passed down over centuries, are now considered engineering wonders, given that they keep the home cool in summers and warm in winters. They are also designed to protect against desert storms, earthquakes and anything else that nature might throw their way.

SO, ladies and gentlemen, the bhunga…

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Notice how beautifully the walls have been embellished and how all their earthly possessions have been stacked to showcase them in the best possible way…

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mirror

Bhungas are almost always clean white from outside and painted with bright and cheerful colours – although this one had rare aqua blues, they are usually in reds, oranges and shades of browns…

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Portraits from Kutch

Last December, we spent a week in Kutch, around the time of the Rann Utsav. The Utsav itself was nothing great but we had a fabulous time at the Devpur homestay and the villages we visited. The women were especially fascinating – friendly, yet shy. Perhaps that shyness was their biggest charm. I have lots coming up on the Kutch trip but for now, a few faces…

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