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Embroideries of Kutch

And the stories woven in them

Stories of Kutch came alive for us as we took in the exhibits at the Living and Learning Design Centre in Bhuj, located just off the State Highway 42, barely a kilometer from Ajrakhpur. Our Mahindra XUV500 parked in front of the large complex, open and inviting; its galleries a window into the richness of this land, geographically and culturally diverse.

Embroideries of Kutch

Kutch is believed to be home to ten million weavers, dyers, embroiderers and spinners. The astonishing variety of crafts concentrated in this relatively small region is unmatched anywhere in the world.

Established ‘for the love of Kutch and the kaarigars (craftsmen) of Kutch’, LLDC is an encyclopedic recording of the living crafts of the region – ‘living’ for, even today, these traditional crafts are practiced as an inherent part of the culture.

The largest exhibition on display presented the embroideries of Kutch – with over-50 (recorded) styles of 12 different communities! A form of personal expression, hand embroidery has been practiced by the women of Kutch for centuries; the kaleidoscope of colours and patterns seen in their clothes, home furnishings and even on cattle, adding a new dimension to the stark desert landscape.

Each with its unique visual language, the styles define community identity, social status, at times even age and martial status, of the wearer. From the geometric Kharek to the intricate Suf and the thorn-bush inspired Rabari, the identity of every Kutchhi person is woven in the stitches of these embroideries.

The intricate handiwork on the swatches on view spelt simplicity and patience, along with keen aesthetics. To think that these crafts developed as interests pursued in free time, and not as an economic engagement, left us both awed and humbled.

They also narrated stories of daily lives and traditions: For instance, in an arranged marriage, the bride’s personality would be gauged through the detailing and choice of colours used in the embroidered pieces – often a bokani (scarf) and vanjani (belt) – that she would send across for her to-be-husband. In a stricter practice, weddings in the Rabari community took years of preparation as the bride entered her husband’s home only after stitching the entire aanu (or trousseau) for her husband and his family. These stories reminded us how culture and tradition itself, just like these crafts, must be alive and evolving with times – rather than thrive in a capsule.

In a trance with the tour, hours later, we walked out of LLDC with a connection formed to the lives of the Kutchhi people, far deeper than the surface colours and patterns would’ve allowed.