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Monday 14 January 2019

Kutch Diaries #Shopping

My Kutch trip so far with visits to Dhordo and Dholavira were experiences of cultural, geographical and historical significance. But I still needed to get my retail experience to round it all off!
Follow the three part Kutch Diaries series:

Kutch Diaries #RannKiKahaaniya >> Kutch Diaries #Dholavira >> Kutch Diaries #Shopping

After a refreshing overnight stay at Radisson Hotel, Kandla (read my Tripadvisor review) I was eager to venture on the last leg of my Kutch trip, shopping! 
With limited time on my hands, I decided to visit the highly recommended LLDC, Ajrakh Studio and Bhujodi. (Kandla - LLDC 42 km, 1 hr)

LLDC, the Living and Learning Design Center is one of a kind craft design, education, learning and resource center, a pioneering effort of the Shrujan Trust. A trust which has enabled the beautiful work of simple women from rural Kutch to reach across the globe while giving them a regular livelihood, maintaining records of their techniques, materials used, creating new designs to market their creativity to more contemporary tastes.

Getting There
Located at Ajrakhpur village, 15 kms from Bhuj, it is easily reachable by public, private transport, chhakada rickshaws.

Admission Fees
Adults - Rs 50
Children - Rs 20

Tue-Sun (10 a.m - 6 p.m)

Photography is strictly prohibited in the museum.

The LLDC, Shrujan Trust

The LLDC center in itself is a visual treat with it's eco-friendly, energy conserving architecture. The tour of this center begins with an inspiring and informative AV in the auditorium. The museum consists of three galleries, a library and a craft studio.
The galleries have state-of-the-art temperature, light and humidity controls to carefully maintain the treasures they display. 

On display are the myriad hand-crafted perfections, the intricate hand-embroideries of 12 different Kutchi communities with over 50 different styles! Art and craft that has been passed down through generations from mother to daughter is being documented and preserved and it is a fantastic effort pioneered by the founder of the Shrujan Trust Late Smt. Chandaben Shroff (or Kaki as she is lovingly called).

Some stories behind the crafts of Kutch
We were fortunate to have an extremely passionate guide, a Shrujan Trust volunteer who took us through the galleries and gave us enlightening insights into the cultural and socio-economic background of the talented fingers that did all the beautiful handwork. 
Image source
When we asked about the entirely black clothed community Rabari women, he explained that they wore black because of either of these three reasons:
1) Legend has it that a Muslim king fell in love with a Rabari girl but the community refused his proposal. When the furious king threatened to kill the entire community, they escaped with the help of a Muslim man from the king's court. He was consequently killed for the treachery. It is to mourn the death of this man who helped to save their honor that the Rabari women wear black.
2) The Rabaris wear black to mourn the death of Lord Krishna whom they worship.
3) The woolen yarn came from black and white sheep. Since the black yarn didn't have takers, they used it for themselves while they sold off the white yarn.

We came to know that the Dhebhar Rabari community women had totally stopped the custom of using their embroidery work for themselves. This was because of an age-old dowry system wherein girls had to painstakingly make several pieces of embroidered garments and only then be allowed to get married. Community members finally decided totally scrap and ban this practice so that the girls could get married at the right age and not be restricted to getting married only after their dowry was completed. Today, these women create embroideries only for commercial purposes, thanks to the work of NGO's.
Another interesting fact I learned was that the intricacy and amount of embroidery on the garments worn by females - the ghagro (skirt) , choli (blouse) and odhani (scarf), varied according to the stage of life they were in. Playful, fully embroidered clothes for the besotted child, whimsical elaborate embroidery for the teen girls, just choli embroidery for the busy married woman and bare minimum embroidery for the old woman.

Shrujan has taken the pains to document and display the various kinds of embroidery patterns, styles, methods followed by different nomadic, semi-nomadic artisans of Kutch communities such as Rabari, Ahir, Aari, Jat, Mutwa, Meghwals, Node, Sodha, Harijan etc. 

The embroidery consists of five elements: Mirrors, Motifs, Stitches, Borders and Style. An interesting fact we learnt was the communities living in close proximity often picked up each other's embroidering styles and incorporated those into their own unique styles.
Our Shrujan volunteer made us smile when he told us that the talented embroidering communities often quietly listened to instructions from various NGO's regarding design inputs and finally executed what they thought best!
Small samples of individual stitches in craft rings depict the intricate patterns and stitches while specially created frames display the richness of the work in all their glory. Some of the works take well over 6 months to a year to complete! It is mind-blowing work of such high quality and intricacy! 

Contemporary turn to Ethnic Embroidery
Earlier these embroideries were made by the Kutchi women only on cotton or woolen fabrics over skirts and blouses mainly as wedding trousseau but today they cater to contemporary markets. Embroideries are made on fabrics like chanderi silk, raw silk, tussar silk, satin, mangalgiri cotton, ikkat, linen, jute silk etc. Modern garments such as pallazos, dress yokes, kurtas, stoles, tunics, jackets, gowns, accessories such as bags, purses, mobile pouches and furnishings such as table runners, coasters, wall-hangings, cushion covers, bedcovers etc. are now adorned with intricate mirror-work, colorful embroideries like Pakko, Aari, Kharek, Neran, Suf, Garasiya Jat, Mutva etc.
I tried my hand at block printing at the Craft's studio.

The Shrujan store is a treasure trove of the most exquisite collection of the best of Kutchi hand embroidered products where I went totally head-over heels shopping! The prices are steep but when you realize how much time each painstaking project takes, you make no bones about coughing up the amount! Each product comes with a tag mentioning the kind of embroidery and the name of the artisan. You are in essence paying to own nothing less than a prized heirloom! Do check out the slideshow above to see the different kinds of embroidery works.

You can easily spend 3-4 hours at the LLDC and still be left wanting to spend some more time, like I did!

Additional reading: 
Communities and Culture of Kutch - Gujarat
The Rabaris: The Nomadic Pastoral Community of Kutch

The Ajrakh Studio
From the LLDC we headed to the nearby Ajrakh Studio famous for Ajrakh block printing and dyeing. Ajrakh printing is a lengthy process in which multiple block printing and washing of the fabric happens several times with natural dyes and natural color fixatives like lime, tamarind paste and even camel dung.

The Ajrakh Studio belongs to world-famous Ajrakh artisan Dr Ismail Khatri and his family carrying on an ancestral art. You can watch a wonderful AV which shows how the entire dyeing and block printing using multiple blocks is carried out. Though we could not meet the legendary Dr Khatri when we visited, he is usually around and speaks to visitors about the intricacies of his art and trade. The adjoining store has beautiful ajrakh-printed fabrics, stoles, sarees, bedsheets etc. that are now in great demand world-wide.

Additional reading:
Ajrakh - A Journey with Dr. Ismail Mohammad Khatri

Our next stop was the famous textile and handicraft village of Kutch, Bhujodi that is about 8 km from Bhuj. Vankars, the weaving community live here and entire families are involved in the weaving, dyeing and embroidery process. Most of the yarn is mill-produced that is woven in looms while the dyeing in the traditional tie-and-dye process is also carried out here. One can enter the homes of the Vankars and observe them at work where they create beautiful shawls, blankets, sarees and more.
Running short of time, I had only time enough to quickly browse through the place.
The shops here sell terrific stuff at very reasonable rates and are a must visit for any one visiting Bhuj. I visited Rakhiyo Hastkala shop and was blown by the variety and reasonable prices of some really amazing handicraft works, bandhini sarees, cutwork dress materials, embroidered pallazos, handbags, purses, wall-hangings and more.

Additional reading:
The Vankars of Bhujodi: Woven in Warmth
Bhujodi Weaving - Bhuj

You could check out this article for your more extensive shopping in Bhuj:
Shopping in Bhuj, India

And there! I was at the end of my Kutch trip! Time to head back home with happy memories, experiences, interesting trivia and lots of shopping bags! 
If you are a shopping or textile enthusiast you should plan your Kutch trip to explore the richness of talent here.

I researched these resources for you to plan a textile trail of Kutch:

1) Kutch Adventures India connects travelers with skilled artisans of Kutch as well as to non-government organizations to promote and preserve the arts and crafts of Kutch.
2) Matsya Craft Tours offers customized craft tours to various villages in Kutch.
3) Breakaway offers tours to hamlets in Kutch to see age old priting, dyeing and embroidery techniques alongwith interactions with the artisan communities.
4) Indus Discoveries has special tours to visit the artisan communities that are an essential part of the cultural heritage of Gujarat



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