The Handicrafts of Gujarat
The incredible legacy of Gujarat’s textiles and quintessential handcrafted artifacts has been one of the most precious contributions to India’s crafting heritage
Scores of master artisans, scattered across Gujarat, are rising once again to take part in the revival of the state’s crafting traditions. From soof embroidery to ajrakh printing, from the superb finish of gorgeous Patan patolas to the precision-driven beauty of sadeli woodwork – Gujarat’s crafting traditions have left an indelible footprint on the global arena since ancient times. The state’s proximity to the Arabian Sea also played an inimitable part in the distribution of its creative genius to Arabian shores and further on to the West. Fragments of cotton exported from Gujarat, dating to the 5th century, have been recovered from the tombs of ancient Egyptians in Fustat; its finest weaves found their way into the linen wardrobes of high-born Roman ladies.
The cornucopia of Gujarat’s crafting heritage and pool of indigenous skills (fuelled by the merging of ancient Jain, Hindu and Islamic cross-cultural traditions in this discipline) have been further enriched by international influences. The motley mix of traders and colonisers, immigrants and rapacious adventurers, from across the ocean arrived on its shores with the legacies of their native skills and traditions in tow, spreading them deep into the local populace.
One of the most remarkable legacies of Gujarat’s crafting skills is its rich and varied weaves – each made with labour-intensive, high-precision techniques passed down from generation to generation.
Among Gujarat’s weaving traditions, the chief one is the double Ikat technique (where threads of both the warp and weft are resist-dyed to create the patterns of fabric before being placed on the loom) which transformed into an art form in the hands of the Salvi master weavers of Patan – originally hailing from Jalna in Maharashtra. Today, the fate of this fast- diminishing craft lies in the hands of just three to four families. Time-consuming and precision-driven (both sides of the fabric weave have the same finish), the double ikat-woven Patola sari was popular with the ladies of the merchant princes of the time. Today, for the lack of patron age, the Patan patola is now a treasured heirloom and the desire of many a bride. One of these prohibitively priced beauties can take over a year to be crafted – just the process of tie-dyeing the threads can consume up to 2-3 months.
If you’ve always yearned to have Patan’s revered double-ikat patola but couldn’t afford one, head for Surendranagar district. Here, you’ll find an inexpensive knock-off in the beautiful single-ikat patolas produced by local weavers. When travelling around Bajana, Wadhwan and Syala villages, you’ll also discover the rare and wondrous beauty of the tangaliya (dana) weave – featured richly in shawls, stolesand garments. This particular weave in goat and sheep wool (where extra weft threads were warp threads to give the effect of beaded embroidery set in geometric designs) is indigenous to the Dangashiya community.
Block printing has been the métier of Khatri artisans, hailing from Sindh, who have settled around Dhamadka. They partially shifted their activities to the nearby Ajrakhpur village after the devastating 2001 earthquake in Kutch. They are the people behind the compelling and intricate patterns of ajrakh – the craft of resist block printing on fabric.
The Vankar community in Bhujodi village weaves its reputation into the folds of its colourful bhujodi shawls, blankets and dhablas (floor coverings). The wool has been traditionally bought from the pastoral Rabari community. The shawls featuring traditional Kutchi motifs are not only popular in the domestic market but also exported to the US and Europe.