My next few days at Kutch were spent zipping around obscure villages, eating rustic meals at various artisans’ houses, and indulging in folklore, handicrafts, and music of the region. Kutch is a land of magnificent legends and folklores of epic proportions and both have influenced the art and its people. For centuries pockets of distinctly different communities have lived there in perfect co-dependent harmony and each boasted of its own share of colourful tales and crafts. While most of these groups have managed to keep their art alive, a few have lost their artistic traditions forever and the most unfortunate among them are the Bharwar people. Pastoralists by nature, Bharwars had the beautiful tradition of celebrating their weddings by dancing raas ( a sensuous folk dance of Gujarat) and their girls used to be skilled in one of the most exquisite Kutch embroideries. Nowadays, the Bharwars hardly perform raas and their women no longer know how to embroider in their style anymore.
Kutch embroideries play a major role in the local ladies lives
This is quite an embarrassing drawback for any community of that region since Kutch embroideries play a major role in the local ladies lives. Traditionally, the Kutch women are trained to make their own trousseau from their very childhood and this practice demands that as soon as a girl child is born, all the ladies of the family start preparing an ensemble of handicrafts and fabrics to be given to her on her marriage. Thus, on her wedding day, a Kutchi bride is a sight to behold and it is no wonder that the women of the region are nearly always spectacularly bejeweled. The tradition of practicing Kutch embroideries has helped the communities preserve their heritage for many centuries until the recent cheaper and more durable alternatives have changed all that.
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Kutch embroideries are protected under the Geographical Indication Act
Among the most skilled communities in terms of Kutch embroideries, the Rabaris, Garasiya Jats, Mutvas and Meghwals stand apart for their exquisite colourful styles of stitching. Protected under the Geographical Indication Act 1999 of the Government of India since 2013, the details of the Kutch embroideries reveal an insight into the local social structure. Each distinct style represents an ethnic group of the region and every one of them consist of a complex combination of stitches, patterns, appliques, and colors. Interestingly, every community has applicable rules for using the patterns and these have been shaped by historical, socio-economic and cultural factors.
Look out for the stunning Heer Bharat motif of Kutch embroideries
Many of the Kutch embroideries are heavily influenced by various architectural designs and motifs like the ‘Heer bharat’ use a mirror, which is fixed in the center of the pattern. Rich in colours, Kutch embroideries are mainly found in vibrant shades such as green, ivory, indigo, black, deep red and yellow and the patterns are intrinsically romantic. Abstract human figurines in dancing pose, flowers, geometric designs, dancing peacocks and Persian and Mughal influenced flowing lines are very popular and the work is usually done on cotton and silk. Delicate beadwork is often included to impart finesse to a finished product and in Kutch, even the leather goods are adorned with detailed embroideries.
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The embroidered leatherware of Kutch is one of its lesser-known gems
Practiced by the Dalit Meghwals, the Kutch leatherwork tradition was brought by them from Rajasthan at the time of their migration and this art is dependent on the nomadic pastoralist Maldharis or cattle breeders. Whenever a Maldhari cattle died, tradition allowed the Meghwals to convert the raw hides into leather and this was a manual labour intensive art. Just the treatment and washing of the hide sometimes took up to eighteen hours and the end results were finely crafted, exquisitely embroidered purses, seats, slippers, and other accessories. The usual bells and whistles of Kutch embroideries, mirror, lace trimmings, and fringes embellished the leatherwares and the art was a beautiful combination of durability, finesse, and craftsmanship.
What makes Kutch a handicraft nucleus?
This kind of intricate detailing exist in all spheres of Kutch lifestyle and from hand-painted roofs to exquisite wallets, my journey into the craft world of Kutch was extremely enriching. During my trip, I often wondered about the intriguing phenomenon of Kutch being such an intensively handicrafts rich region and the reason behind this artistic heritage is highly debated. Although all theories claim Kutch handicrafts to have been brought into the region by migrating people, the origin of these arts remains controversial and obscure. From wandering cattle breeders to nomadic Muslim minstrels, many fantastic stories have been attributed to the incredible Kutch heritage of handicrafts and there are myriad of existing legends as well.
Kutch embroideries trail is not to be missed
Today, more than seventeen distinct types of Kutch embroideries are still practiced and these are used for adorning garments, home furnishings, and fabrics. The six most important regionalized techniques of Kutch embroideries are Soof, Kharek, Paako, Rabari, Jat, and Mutwa. Make sure to visit the following villages of Sumrasar, Bhirandiyara, Dhordo, and Nirona to enjoy the world of Kutch embroideries to the fullest.
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