Crafts of Gujarat

 

 

Ethnic Flair Embroidery in Gujarat

Gujarat, often called the Manchester of the East, has been involved in the textile trade for centuries. Almost all parts of the State specialize in some form of exotic textile weaving.

Heer Bharat

The stark monotony of the desert landscape of Kutch is relieved by the bright shades of the embroidery created in the region. The embroidered fabrics that come from Banni in Kutch are embellished with mirrors and beads. The Jats are known for their refined embroidery skills. The specialty of the embroidery here is the execution of architectural designs known as the heer bharat. The stitch derives its name from the floss-silk (heer). The stitch, almost three inches long runs parallel to the warp in one part of the motif and to the weft in the other giving it a natural texture. In the center is a mirror secured with chain-stitch.

Embroidery by other Communities

The Mochi community, who it is believed, learnt the craft from Muslim craftsmen, has almost perfected the fine art of embroidering chain-stitch on leather.

Motifs derived from Mughal and Persian art as well as designs using animal forms are used extensively in their work.

The Ahir and Rabari community, on the other hand decorate the dark background of the fabrics they wear with strikingly vivid embroidery and mirror work. The mirrors are brought into relief by the use of dark colored thread in herringbone or button-hole stitch.

Immigrants from Saurashtra, the Kanbis, prefer the use of white, yellow or saffron base cloth for their garments. While working with chain-stitch in colorful motifs, their workmanship is not nearly as fine as that of the Mochis.

Kathi Embroidery

In Saurashtra, the most ancient and noteworthy embroidery was done by the Kathi community. The women of this community showed preference for black cloth embroidered in crimson, violet, golden, yellow and white with greens and blues sparingly used to balance the colors. The main stitch was an elongated darn and chain-cum-interlacing.

Bead Work

Bead work was introduced into this region at a much later stage. Imported from East Africa around 1850, the Mochi craftsmen were the first to use it. By the turn of the century, women of other castes replaced their thread-work by beads. Though the craft has attained a degree of commercialization, even today the finest pieces are those, which formed a part of the bride's dowry almost 30 or 40 years ago.

The best place to see the more exquisite works of Gujarati embroidery, bead work and other similar crafts is at the religious ceremonies, weddings and festivals. It is on these occasions that each caste proudly establishes its identity by wearing its own highly distinctive and original garments. And as long as there will be the hot afternoon sun shining down on them, the womenfolk from Gujarat will spend the long, hot afternoons spinning more of their colorful and aesthetically pleasing wonders.

Woodcarving

Woodcarving is one of the important crafts in Gujarat, evident in many elaborately carved temples, havelis (mansions), and palaces as well as objects of daily and ritual use. Interestingly, wood was never a locally available material and was always imported into Gujarat from different timber producing regions. It was used as a structural material as early as 12th century and the Gujarati craftsmen transformed the various components of the building-the columns, ceilings, struts, doors, windows, balconies, and beam ends into veritable works of art. Nawab's Palace in Palanpur and intricate jharokhas (windows) carved out of wood or havelis (mansions) in Vaso with their wealth of wooden architectural details, are some of the examples of wood carving tradition in Gujarat. If you are looking forward to carry home an example of such fine woodcraft, look for replicas of dowry or spice boxes available in different sizes and often embellished with brass sheet work.

Utensils

The craftsmen of Gujarat have excelled even in the making of utensils. Visit any home in Gujarat and your are sure to find a variety of gleaming copper, brass and iron vessels, each with a shape and form suited to the specific need. Metal lamps, incense burners, boxes for storing betel leaf and nut, nutcrackers, large dowry containers, and votive figurines are other examples of metal work available in Gujarat. The metal artisans of Gujarat are known as kansaras, from the Gujarati word kansu for bronze. Before the introduction of brass, the use of bronze utensils was very common. The varied kinds of nutcrackers and religious and other figurines make for ideal souvenirs and gifts.

Terracotta

Gujarat is also famous for its terracotta work, especially votive terracotta figurines that one can find in large numbers all along the countryside especially in South Gujarat. Each terracotta figurine or object has been offered to a deity or spirit and has a special significance - the small domain house is meant for the spirit to live in, the representation of parts of the human body are meant as appeasement, and the horses as an offering when vows are fulfilled. The relationship between the potter and the tribal communities are thus of paramount importance, each creation be it hand-coiled or made on the wheel has a special spiritual essence.

Jewelry

Jewelry is yet another fascinating craft in Gujarat. Each tribe or clan has different types of ornaments and what is interesting is that many communities have retained their traditional patterns of dress and ornamentation. Silver is the most commonly used metal with women of many communities wearing nearly three kilos of silver at a time. Gold and semi-precious stone jewelry were the preserve of the rich Brahmins and Banias. In tribal areas, silver is used along with coins, glass beads, cowries, dried grass, seeds, and berries to fashion colorful and vibrant jewelry. In Gujarat, there are ornaments for practically every part of the body-necklaces, earrings, nose-rings, hair ornaments, bracelets, bangles, amulets, waistbands, anklets and finger and toe rings. No ornament is worn singly. People wear many necklaces, some which stay close to the neck, others that go down to the waist, some with pendants, some with many strands, multiple rings on their fingers and toes and at least three different types of earrings all along the ear-lobe. Threads, wool and even plastic buttons are used to great effect to add color and gaiety to the jewelry.


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