For Gujarat’s famous lacquered woodcraft, you need to head to Sankheda town. The Kharadi Suthar community has generations of skills behind their craft, passing as it has from father to son a precious tradition since the 1800s.Thetools they use are simple – lathes and hand-held equipment – but the mastery of their work is anything but ordinary. Sankheda furniture features hand-painted exteriors in greens, browns and reds with motifs drawn from nature, picked out in silver and gold. To protect this elaborate embellishment, a layer of lacquer (atishi) is added to the finished product, giving it its distinctive metallic sheen. The lacquered dandiya sticks you see during Navratri could well be a product from Sankheda. Pick up a low stool (bajoth), candle stands or decorative boxes in various sizes as gifts for friends and family back home.
An ancient and abiding legacy is the painterly skill of the Rathwas, Bhilals, and Naykas communities – renowned for the pithora – ritualistic wall paintings rendered during auspicious occasions and even while petitioning their tribal deity, Pithora Baba, during calamitous times. The entire process is imbued with a variety of rituals and ceremonial activities, accompanied by chants and ritualistic songs – all presided over by the Badva. The paintings themselves are sketches of legends and events with which Pithora Baba is associated. The dyes – yellow, blue, orange, green, red – for the sketches (painted by brushes made from twigs of neem or bamboo) are created from a mix of vegetable colours suffused with a concoction of milk and mahuda liquor.
The dying art of rogan – painting on cloth with the use of castor oil-based dyes – is believed to be of Persian origin and flourished here in Gujarat majorly in Nirona, Khavada and Chaubari. The outlines (which are later filled in with colour) are created by threads of paints made from a gooey paste and repeated folding of the fabric over each sketch. The more intricate the sketches, the more expensive is the finished product. An expensive and time-consuming art form, with a seasonal market, it started slowly dying for the lack of patronage. Today, under government patronage, the craft is being revived. A rare and treasured art, it is becoming a collectible item amongst savvy tourists.