Fostering traditional art

Lambani women in Sandur's Kushala Kala Kendra give a modern and contemporary twist to their traditional embroidery, writes Melanie P Kumar

Lambani women in Kushala Kala Kendra, Sandur

Entering Sandur’s Kushala Kala Kendra is a feast for the eyes, as you see vibrant colours and beautiful embroidery and other handicrafts lighting up the showroom. Even more exciting is to see the local women sitting on the verandah and inside the office, working cheerfully on their intricate embroidery and other designated tasks, with complete concentration, lifting their heads up only when you ask them a question.

Hands that craft

Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra is the brainchild of Sandur Manganese and Iron Ore (SMIORE) and was established by the company in 1984. The intent was to give a fillip to the traditional crafts of the area and also to provide sustenance and a dignified standard of living to the local women who are proficient in these forms, but lack the wherewithal to market their products, and also keep abreast of the latest in fashion trends.

But it was only in 1988 that the organisation garnered independent status and was registered as a formal society. At the heart of the Kendra’s philosophy is the belief that the revival of the traditional art forms is only possible through the encouragement of those who practise them.

Kushala Kala Kendra is quite involved with working on khadi and has a local weaving and dyeing section, as also cane and bamboo and stone and word sculpting outfits, which employ men.

Lambani work is the speciality of the Kushala Kala Kendra and some of the women belonging to this group caught my eye because of their indigenous costumes comprising mirrorwork set in colourful embroidery, which is the hallmark of the Lambani art form, not forgetting the coins, shells and costume jewellery that adorn these women.

The community follows an animistic form of religion, which symbiotically involves respect for nature and natural processes. The absorption of the elements of local religion, culture and evolving traditions and beliefs seems to have provided the Lambanis with a rich
repertoire that is so vivid in their work. An itinerant and frugal lifestyle might have also contributed to these women being able to create magic from scraps. They seem to be the original protectors of the environment, as they worked mostly with recycled material. Pulling threads from old saris and using these to sew small pieces of cloth together to transform them into exquisite clothing, jewellery and household items by embellishing them with mirrors, shells and coins is truly an art form that needs to be promoted and saved, and Kushala Kala Kendra is doing just that.

Intricate work on a choli
Intricate work on a choli

Inspired creations

Logically, the motifs and colours that provide them inspiration are a result of their nomadic lifestyle and their folk traditions and rituals. These creations were said to be an integral part of the bridal trousseau at a time when the putting together of it was done on the birth of a daughter. There is a belief that this tribe might have descended from the Roma gypsies of Europe, who are said to have initially migrated into the deserts of Rajasthan many years ago. Later, they were believed to have continued their journey southwards, including Karnataka.

There are about 300 artisans who work for the organisation under different arrangements. Besides the tailors and staff hailing from Sandur, the craftspeople live in nearby places like Sushilanagar, MM Halli, Kudlagi and Anekal. Whilst 30 artisans come daily and are paid according to piece work, the rest of the women work from their homes, with only their supervisors coming in once a week to do the sampling. These women are given their bus fare and provided food for their effort in coming to the Kendra.

Those who come in daily are paid wages and are also entitled to facilities like provident fund, gratuity and bonus, not to forget, rations. It is interesting to note that whilst the completion of a certain number of pieces determines their entitlement to a bonus, the women are quite satisfied to reach that magic figure and not aspire beyond. This is possibly the reason for the contented, happy faces that one sees all around the Kendra.

Gauri Bai, one of the longest working Lambani craftswoman at the centre, is an inspiration, as she speaks about her two software engineer sons and her travels to Mexico, China and Germany, of which she says she liked the last country for its sense of order. Shanti Bai, now a supervisor, is also a national awardee. She proudly holds up a wall piece on the guru-shishya parampara, which won her a UNESCO Award in 2013.

Located just a stone’s throw away from Shiva Vilas Palace, the first thing that a tourist must do is to make a beeline to this place, before exploring the other nearby attractions like Anekundi and Hampi.

The contribution of Sandur Manganese and its visionary chairman, the late Mr M Y Ghorpade, has to be acknowledged for the creation of an organisation which has helped in the promotion and preservation of crafts like cane and bamboo, stone and wood carving and traditional block-printing, natural dyeing, and most of all, the Lambani art form.

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