Villages around the Rann of Kutch may not be well-developed, green or beautiful like in other parts of the country, but when it comes to handicraft, everyone in these 30 villages is an artist, finds Rakesh Kumar during a visit to this fascinating land
They say the real India resides in villages. But this saying held little meaning until we visited villages around Bhuj in Kutch district of Gujarat.
The westernmost part of India, with Pakistan on one side and Rajasthan on the other, has always faced nature’s fury with its arid climate and marshy land in most part.
It has made the life of its residents more tough and agriculture difficult. This adverse atmosphere led its residents to evolve arts and crafts for survival.
Therefore, the villages around Bhuj, which houses mostly pastoral nomadic, semi-nomadic tribes, specialize in different forms of arts.
For instance, Dhorodo village is known for mirror-work and leather embroidery; Ludia village has its woods crafts; Nirona is famous for Rogan painting; Dhamanka has block printed fabrics, table and bed linen; and Anjar is known for its metalcrafts, especially betel nut crackers and ornaments.
Interestingly, they don’t use any machine or technology; neither did they take any technical classes for it. The art forms have been passed down from father to son and are thus intact for generations.
These art forms are the only means of their livelihood.
Kutch caught the fancy of everyone when Indian film actor Amitabh Bachchan, in one of the advertisements, standing in the middle of the white desert in Rann of Kutch woos travellers to visit the state.
With his oneliners like “Kutch nahi dekha to kuch nahi dekha” and “Kuch din to Guzaro Gujarat mein”, and powerful white background of salt attracted many tourists.
But tourists, including us, knew little other than the magnificent white dessert, and that they will have a taste of its handicraft. Therefore, when our guide asked to visit villages around Bhuj, our first question was why visit all these villages when we already had our lifetime experience walking on the salt desert and witnessing sun setting into the white expanse.
However, after a visit to these villages, one may conclude that a visit to Rann of Kutch is incomplete unless one enters their villages.
Plethora of offers
Being a border state, in history, Kutch has been a destination for many traders ~ they came from Africa, the Middle East and the Swat Valley by land and sea.
This global connection led this region to absorb culture from everyone. Thankfully, they preserved it the same way that it was. From embroidery to thread work and from leather stitches to iron work, every villager has mastered some form of art. Interestingly, these art forms, like embroidery, are traditionally stitched by all the villagers, including men, women and kids, and provides employment to most of them.
These are the only sources of their bread and butter. However, fury of nature, like earthquake and extreme weather, did become an obstacle.
However, they preserve it in its simplest form. Therefore, Kutch is a treasure for art connoisseurs, where each village has a different compartment of delights.
After visiting the magnificent white desert, our first stop was Ludhiya village, 70 km north of Bhuj. Before seeing the craft, the village’s circular walled and thatched roof houses, called Bunga, will impress a visitor.
These types of houses were devised by villagers to ward off any natural calamity. The thick clay wall gives them protection from earthquake and also keeps them cool in extreme summer.
Villagers here are engaged in textile, embroidery, wood furniture, mud and clay work. “This village was completely destroyed in Bhuj earthquake (2001) and was again rebuilt. Originally, we are from Rajasthan and settled down here many generations ago. Therefore, you will find a mix of Rajasthani and Katchi style in our work,” informed the older villagers.
The small village is mostly populated by harijans. While the women create beautiful embroidery work, the men make decorative furniture. None of their kids study beyond Class VII and they learn the art forms from their parents. Therefore, they say this art is in their blood.
“We sell our products mainly to tourists and we also take part in exhibitions and fairs across the country. A lot of tourists come here and buy our work.
We also travel and do the art form on walls, ceilings and pillars, according to a client’s needs. We also make furniture and other wood work. The Rann Utsav has increased the visibility of our work,” informed an old man.
Nirona Village (Rogan Art)
Nirona, a sleepy village in Bhuj, is home to the famous Rogan Art. An iron stylus is used to paint fabrics, which is known as Rogan.
It is a special kind of paint, which is prepared by using castor oil to embellish everything. Today, only Gafoorbhai Khatri, and his family, consisting of four brothers, have kept the traditional Rogan art alive over the past eight generations.
The family, in difficult times, did labour work to sustain themselves, but did not give up the art form. “We have got many awards. However, we are looking at some special recognition and a place in world record books. We just want the world to recognise our work,” informed Gafoorbhai Khatri.
“There is no secret in the art form and we are ready to train people, but we have kept the colour mixing a secret. We will reveal it all after we get world record recognition.”
The family in 2010, trained about 300 girls in this art form. Of these 20 can only do the outer work but when it comes to do the intricate inner art work the Khatri family members have to be involved.
Usually the male members in the family take forward this art form not the women, who do household work. The minimum cost of a painting is Rs 200 and can go up to Rs 3 lakh, depending on the design and intricacy of the work. Rogan art can only be purchased from this village.
Just a few minutes’ walk from this house will lead one at the house of Luhar Husen Sidhik, famous for Copper Bell Art.
These bells were initially made to tie around the cattle, after which it took on an art form. “We started making wall hangings, candle holders, key chains and show pieces among others,” said Sidhik. The best part of this art is that these bells are made without any welding and souldering and made in three stages.
Copper, bronze and iron are used to make these bells. Unlike Gaffur Khatri family, this art involves both men and women. The three part job is done by the men, while the glazing and final touch is given by the women of the house. These bells are made in three villages, but by different branches of the family.
Dhamadka (Ajrakh Block printing)
Around 34 km away from Bhuj, is another artisans’ village called Dhamadka, which is famous for Block printing. They say that around 400 years back, many Muslim Khatri artists came to this village and settled here. Since then, they are into this form of art.
In this form of art, a block of colour is placed symmetrically on cloth. Around 16 steps are required to produce an authentic Ajrakh print and the process is long and complicated.
The families involved in this art form informed that they used 100 per cent biodegradable and natural dyes like henna, alizarine, rubab, turmeric, indigo and herbs. Interestingly, they don’t go out of the village to sell their products, their product get sold in the village only.
The villagers usually take bulk orders from companies and designers. “We also stock up some materials as a lot of tourists visit us and buy from here directly after seeing a live demo. After the Rann festival the tourist influx has grown and business has become good.
Earlier, there used to be less tourist footfalls and we just about survived,” informed one of the members.