Nimble fingers that stitch the most exquisite patterns and create priceless art. The Kutch region is rich with talent, showcasing an astounding array of embroidery. Ashis Dutta elaborates
Kutch, that landmass which has jutted out to the west of mainland Gujarat, north of the Gulf of Kutch, is a tapestry of embroidery. Bhuj is the principal town and provides the link to the far flung and often remote quarters that Kutch stretches to.
The region is inhabited by a chequered ensemble of communities. Some are nomadic. Some have migrated from far off Sindh (now in Pakistan) or from the Jat lands of northern India. And each has brought with it its unique basket of culture, lifestyle, music, craft and an astounding array of embroidery.
In the more recent history during the Raj era, the indigenous craft of embroidery, as also the other crafts, flourished under the patronage of the princely state of Kutch. In the harsh and inhospitable landscape of the region, the village women, ever so gentle and graceful, weaved their dreams in coloured thread, creating intricate patterns with byzantine dexterity. The skill is handed down the generations, from mothers to daughters. The resplendent vibe of their embroidery contrasts the sandy ruggedness of their surroundings.
Stitch in time
There are 18 forms of embroideries, each strikingly different from the other, which are found in Kutch. A village is usually inhabited by a particular artisan community, and all the households are involved in some or all parts of their shared expertise. Some of the most prominent lineages of embroidery found in Kutch are as below:
Jat Embroidery: This is extremely labour-intensive, and perhaps epitomises the physical and mental stamina of the Jat people, who are never daunted by hard labour. The patterns are closely stitched and cover the entire cloth. The colour and motifs visually communicate the marital status of the wearer. This interesting tradition of motif and colour as social identifier is not restricted to the Jats alone, but runs across the different lineages of embroidery of Kutch. The Jats, as robust as they are, take great pride in the toughness of their stitches where the stitches outlive the cloth on which they are sewn.
Muthwa Embroidery: Coming from the Muslim communities of the Banni region in Kutch, this embroidery is distinguished by its highly intricate work with tiny mirrors. Reflecting Islamic traditions, the motifs are mostly floral or abstract. The women are known for their fastidiousness with their embroidery. Little wonder then that the Muthwa embroidery is extremely popular among tourists from India and abroad.
Rabari Embroidery: This form of embroidery is made by Rabaris, who are originally a nomadic, pastoral community. And their life reflects in their art form too. To a Rabari woman, her kapdu (blouse) exudes the most important art form with elaborate ornamentation. The intensity of adornment of the kapdu indicates the age and marital status of the wearer. Their pastoral narration is often expressed in animals as motifs. Unusual play of mirrors is a unique feature of Rabari embroidery.
Pakko Embroidery: Last but not the least, there is Pakko embroidery. Pakko literally means ‘solid’. Unlike the embroidery traditions mentioned above, several communities cutting across religious lines are involved in Pakko embroidery, like Raishipotra and Halepotra, Marwada and Sodha Rajputs. Here, dense stitches are used covering the entire base cloth. The designs are created using free-hand drawing and then transferred to the base cloth with the help of stencils. Outlines are in square chain stitch, and fillings in denser variety of buttonhole stitch, with a slightly raised level. Use of mirrors is common.
There are still other popular embroidery forms in Kutch like Soof, Neran, Kharek, Kambhiri and Ahir. And it is easy to get spoilt for choice. State-supported and private initiatives have now grown around Bhuj to encourage social enterprise among these exceptionally skilled women. Helping them to build capacity, to add value through choice and availability of better quality of raw material and to be able to fetch fair wages and product-price through easier marketing options.
However, each inch of thread still recounts the story of a pair of skilled hands. Hands, which cook food for the family and oil-rub the baby, carry water from afar, wash utensils and then sew magic. Hands, which imprint a part of the soul in each stitch, seamed in love, agony, despair and hope.