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.
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.
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…
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?
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.