From the largest sand desert of India, comes the Most Colorful Kutch Embroidery

by Prachi Lakhotia

When one mentioned Kutch, the image of a vast expanse of desert land used to come to the mind. Not anymore! With the region given attention and recognized for its potential and promise, the Kutch district has evolved as a prominent tourist destination for visitors from all over India and the world.

What is Kutch famous for?

Kutch is known for several things that are remarkably unusual for the rest of India.

– As the largest district of the country mainly because of the huge desert land or Rann of Kutch, this shallow wetland which submerges in water during the rainy season, becomes dry during other seasons.

An ecologically rich region, you have wildlife conservation areas such as the Indian Wild Ass SanctuaryKutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary, Narayan Sarovar SanctuaryKutch Bustard Sanctuary, Banni Grasslands Reserve and Chari-Dhand Wetland Conservation Reserve.

– Bhuj, the capital of this district, had been literally flattened in 2001 because of an earthquake of 8 plus on the Richter scale and it being close to the epicentre. The new construction since then has transformed the place beyond recognition.

– It is very close to the border and a sensitive area heavily patrolled by both the Indian and Pakistan armies, because of a once-upon time dispute regarding the claim on a land rich in natural gas.

Kutch embroidery is known the world over for its sharp detailing, exotic adornment in the form of sensational microscopic thread and mirror work on bright colored fabrics for centuries. The astonishing fact is that the ethnic practitioners of this craft are from the shepherd and cobbler communities with literally no education to their name.

– The Rann of Kutch is a favourite location for Bollywood film makers. Movies like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Lagaan, Refugee etc. and song sequences, certain portions of popular Hindi movies have been shot in this very attractive location over the years.

– Mandvi, is a sea place, just 45 Km from Bhuj and it has its own sights to offer visitors. Mandvi was once the seat of Royalty and has a palace with very many interesting facets to it.

The extraordinary craftsmanship of Kutch embroidery

There are several tribes and sub-tribes and since the art of mirror work and embroidery started with the shepherds and a certain cobbler community centuries ago, this nomadic art gradually became universally prevalent to establish itself as a part of the cultural identity of the Kutch region. Each tribe and sub-tribe has its own typical trademark type manner of embroidery. The Rohanas, the Sodhas, Garacia Jats, Dhanetah Jats are some of the prominent names that are mentioned, each with its typical style of embroidery.

Exclusivity, uniqueness, microscopic execution, detail and colour panorama are the foundations of Kutch embroidery. Skill and craftsmanship of a very high order that have no parallel – they are the heritage art of India’s fine works on fabric. A heritage that has survived the travails of time it is an art that is still considered one of the most difficult and intricate in its execution.

Located in Kutch and Saurashtra, the artisans who churn out this fine piece of work are the locals comprising tribal people, peasants and women folk who have not been told by anybody yet have been maintaining the purity and fineness of this hand craft for hundreds of years.

The beauty of Kutch embroidery

Kutchi embroidery is essentially influenced by architectural designs and inspiring motifs such as ‘Heer Bharat’ where the mirror is fixed at the centre with embroidery all around. It is done in a plethora of pleasing colours such as green, deep red, yellow, off white, black, indigo sarees, ivory the spread of colour around each mirror creates a panoramic effect.

Other popular traditional motifs are romantic portrayals and patterns of human figurines in dancing poses. Dancing peacocks and other animals are other notable subjects. The embroidery is done on silk sarees and cotton sarees fabrics but with preference for cotton. Beadwork also accompanies many a decorative work.

One of the Kutchi marvels in embroidery

Kutchi Bharat

Kutchi embroidery consists of bead work, mirror work and extraordinary embroidery. ‘Kutchi Bharat’ is embroidery that surpasses all other forms of Kutchi embroidery in detailing, execution and finish.

What is special to ‘Kutchi Bharat’?

It has the most complex and miniature embroidery from among all types of ‘Kutchi’ embroidery, because the colours chosen are vibrant and very pleasing. There are different types of Kutchi embroideries called as Kacho Bharat, Pako Bharat, Niran, Bharat, Kharek Bharat, Kambari Bharat, Chopad Bharat, Gufuo Bharat and Tanka Bharat.

 Each clan within the region specializes in an aspect of the art that has been honed to a fine point of distinction for each of the practitioners. From the semi-desert land of ‘Banni’ it is practiced by the Lohanas of Khavda, the Jats, Harijans etc., all belonging to Banni. The Lohanas specialize in skirt work and coverlets. The Jats do a lot of miniature work.

The Rabaris produce decorative designs using flowers, panels, geometrical stylized horse and rider, peacocks, scorpions etc. in chain stitch and mirrors scattered between. Decorative designs are made of flowers, decorative panels, a geometrical stylized horse and rider, peacocks and scorpions, worked in the chain stitch with round petal shaped and triangular mirrors scattered between them.

The Ahirs specialize in chain stitch embroidery. The young women wear skirts of thick hand spun cotton of green, red, blue or black. The most common decorative designs for their embroidered pieces are parakeets, flowers, women producing buttermilk, fan shaped half flowers or attractively decorated panels worked in rows, separated by bands of narrow geometric borders.

Traditional to Kutch is another style of embroidery known as ‘Hurmitch’, inspired from the Bavaliya tree-generally known as ‘thorny acacia’. It is an embroidery style worked almost completely with disconnected interweaving stitches arranged into various geometric patterns.

In Hurmitch stitch fabrics, the reverse surface of the cloth contrasts powerfully with the front. Separated interlacing decorative designs are attached to the base fabric only at the outer edges of the motifs.

To create these insignificant separate fabrics, scaffolding twist spun threads are set up on the surface and the woven things are woven into the scaffolding with a needle. This results in small detached and separate designs of interlaced woven fabrics that lie above the surface of the base fabric.

The finest needle work today comes from many communities living in the Banni zone. The Mutva Jats of Banni embroider in an extremely fine style that is exclusive in Sindh and Kutch. This style of embroidery is characterized by geometrically decorative designs and sometimes white three or five petal flowers, worked in tiny square chain stitching often outlined with white consecutively stitches.

Unnati’s Kutch embroidered fabrics

Unnati Silks, has a close to four decade association with traditional weaving products and its weaving community in clusters across India, has acquired its rightful place in the sun as having one of the widest range and most varied collection of Indian ethnic varieties from twenty one states of India.

A self-appointed task of providing opportunity to traditional weavers to showcase their art and skills through innovative and unique handloom creations, providing a platform for the traditional artisans to keep alive their age old weaving skills and explore newer ways to bag the attention of the market, has been Unnati’s business with a social cause since 1980.

Unnati has a good foothold in the field of textiles and armed with a good team of researchers, printers, marketing professionals and notable assets like a printing unit, provides the ideas and imagination that are required to match the market’s demands and expectations in fabrics. With a mutual beneficial association since a very long period of four decades there is trust and loyalty, innovation and dedication, anticipation and fulfilment that make for a bond that seems next to unbreakable. Kutch embroidery also is held dear by Unnati Silks for its timeless qualities that stand good even today. No wonder Unnati Silks has been able to devote itself to a wide and interesting collection that includes sarees online, salwar kameez online, kurta kurtis online and indo western apparel which feature the highly appealing Kutchi embroidery.

Kutch embroidery occupies a niche place in India’s rich and diverse array of traditional arts and crafts even today. It however needs the encouragement and support of the market like any complex art that gradually over time loses its sheen and share, either because the practitioners lose their enthusiasm over a discouraging situation of insufficient appreciation for their efforts or the prices of raw materials forbid the continuation of the art any longer. Either way posterity loses the opportunity to get the benefit of the extraordinary skill and artistry.

Kutch – the desired destination for tourists

Besides the marvellous Kutchi fabrics visitors also like to have a good enjoyable trip through their visit to the nice and varied fare that is put before them.

What does one get to see in Kutch?

The Rann Utsav has a sizeable global audience every year to view the beautiful white desert/ Rann in the moonlight. The full moon night is the right time to view the Rann turn into milky white sand.

A tent city close to Bhuj, that has come up on account of the tourist rush called Dhordo has about 350 tents that offers a wide variety of shopping and entertainment fare. Bandhani sarees, traditional and handicraft items, are great for the shoppers to spend hours on end to choose what to take away.

For the adventurous lot, you have camel cart rides, safari rides, parasailing, dirt biking etc. For those out to have a good time, the live music concerts, cultural dance shows featuring the traditional garba and dandiya and other programmes give the visitors good memories to carry away with them.

Kalo Dungar or Black Hill is the highest point of Bhuj that affords a panoramic view all around.

Close by Mandvi, part of the Kutch district has many places worth visiting.

  • 72 Jinalaya or Adiswar Bounter Jinalaya Mahatirth, built in the early 1980s of octagonal shape in an area of 80 acres, has a 6 foot plus idol of Adiswar Bhagwan. It is a jain temple with a Dharmasala with modern facilities.
  • Vijay Vilas Palace has plenty of architectural marvels to offer.
  • The Swaminarayan temple, the wind farms Beach and the windmills that provide interesting diversions, the traditional ship building area that is 400 plus years old, the Shyamji Krishna Smarak which is the freedom fighter’s memorial, the Lighthouse are some of the more interesting places that has many tourists flocking to them.

India is a nice choice for all sorts of people who wish to make a small trip to a holiday hub and have their fill of sights, indulgence in culinary delights, shop around till they tire, and have a fun time that would give the time spent more than its money’s worth.

Kutch fulfils the tourist’s desire to have all this and come back home, with lovely memories and his “Kutch embroidery”.

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