Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kala Raksha Organization

We then took an impromptu visit to Kala Raksha, of grassroots social enterprise dedicated to the preservation of traditional Kutch arts. ( I had been enamored by some pieces I had seen at a craft fair in Chennai a few years ago and had kept its business card). Our guide was keen for us to meet Judy Frater, an American who visited the area as curator at the Textile Museum in Washington DC, fell in love with Kutch embroidery and subsequently stayed and founded the organization. While we were waiting for Judy to arrive, we were shown the room where exemplars of traditional pieces of varying styles were preserved in museum–quality format. Such preservation with accompanying documentation not only served to ensure that Kutch-style embroidery can be seen in the future, but it also provides inspiration to artisans as they create new designs.

In another building, we saw some women of the Artisan Pricing Committee inspecting pieces for quality. Not only does the organization provide these rural women with a viable means of income, it also provides education programs focused on health, economics, and management. Such earning has empowered these female artisans, enabling them to use income and instant loans for building homes, celebrating weddings, and purchasing sewing machines. Rather than seeing such gorgeous handicrafts dying out, such organizations serve to ensure a market for years to come.

For more information on Kala Raksha, visit their website http://www.kala-raksha.org/

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bandhani Tie Dye, Gujarat

The tie-dye technique known as Bandhani is renowned in the Kutch area. Is considered a symbol of married life and is often incorporated in both Hindu and Muslim marriages. Typically, each village would have its own color scheme and design. Tie-dyeing in the area can be traced back to the Indus Valley civilization around 5000 years ago. Now, many of the designs are machine printed, but there still are places where the craft remains intact, particularly in Jamnagar, Anjar, and Bhuj. We visited the home of Mr. Ali Mohammed Isha in Bhuj.

First the cloth was laid on a table, on top of which stencil paper was laid. Thinned dye was brushed over the paper, with the color penetrating into the holes of the design. Tiny knots (whose positions are indicated by the dot design) are then tied in the folded cloth. The areas tied with string retain the color of the fabric. To remove the stencil marks, the cloth is bleached. It is then dyed in a light color, after which the areas that are to remain in that color are tied. The number of times that a piece is knotted is directly proportional to the number of colors used. A skillful person could tie about 2500 knots in about six hours. Imagine how many knots were made in a piece that took 15 to 20 days to tie! Seeing this process in action prompted me to purchase a Chandro Khani, a marriage shawl from the Khatri community. Along with such traditional designs, Mr. Isha had many contemporary pieces as well.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ahir Embroidery, Kutch Region

Our next stop was the house of Geetha Laxmiben in the town of New Dhaneti. The Ahir style of embroidery is similar to that of the Rabaris (another agricultural community), but only round mirrors are used with geometrical and floral motifs. It was amazing to see Geetha transform the red silk cloth into designs incorporating the finest of stitches. Even rather small designs could take up to seven days to complete.

On our way to Bhuj, the flat land on both sides of the road contained many factories, particularly those that made tiles. Most of these factories, enticed by a tax-free holiday, were erected as incentives for business development after the area’s devastating quake in 2001.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ajrakh Block Printing, Gujarat

Now in the Kutch area, we visited two towns engaged in block printing. The Arabic name Ajrakh denotes the blue color, an essential component of this style. Typically there is a central design surrounded by a series of borders including around the periphery. In both places we observed in Dhamanka and Khavda, machine spun cotton cloth was used. After the cloth was washed to remove sizing, a pre-mordant was added to increase color intensity. The color of the cloth was preserved through the printing of a resist consisting of line, gum, and water. In one place, they sprinkled sawdust used to strengthen the resist. Both sides of the cloth are printed. The black outlines of the design and then stamped, with the color being made from rested iron and Jaggery (raw cane sugar). Read is then printed using alum as a mordant. The cloth is then boiled in a mixture containing Alizarine or madder root, after which it is dried in the sun. Other colors are then added in order to achieve the desired color combinations and depth. For each color, the cloth is both printed and dyed. To achieve green, pomegranate shells with yellow made from a local nut are combined. Although natural indigo is sometimes used, synthetic colors are now common. In all, the fabric is typically washed 13 to 14 times. Around 20 different wooden printing blocks would be used. Some of the cloth we saw was destined for Fab India and others for international markets.

For more information on Ajrakh block printing, visit: http://www.craftrevival.org/CraftArtDetails.asp?CountryCode=India&CraftCode=003664

Thursday, May 26, 2011

At the Cotton Factory

After our last scrumptious meal in Dasada, we departed, thanking the owners for their hospitality. Cows and goats were on the road, going out to pasture. Buses were being loaded and women were hopping in back of trucks to go out to the fields. Sheep were already in the field, grazing. Tractors decorated with colorful tassels and fake flowers puttered along. In Dhrangadhra, we stopped at a cotton gin factory. Although it was closed for the day due to the Rama festival, we still were given a tour. Every single part of the cotton was used including the seeds for oil and waste for the cattle.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

At the Rabari Village

Now that the farmers were back from the fields, we went to visit a Rabari village. Their cattle were now tied up and feeding in simple pens made up of thorny acacia twigs. While men were busy milking their cows, the women made chapattis on an open stove. Clothes still hung out to dry on thorny bushes. One woman invited us into her house. Inside the second room, pots and other cooking utensils were neatly arranged along the wall. Along the narrow path, we had to watch where we stepped in order to avoids cows with sharp horns and copwies on the ground. Children greeted us, still licking their popsicle treats.

 My father got to meet some farmers and do some farm talk through our guide as an interpreter. Considering that the man was about half the size of my father, it was amazing how much physical labor they were capable of doing. The women proudly showed us they’re wide ivory bracelet given to them by their husband’s family upon marriage. After all, they were quite aware of all the hard work that she would soon do for the family. Also decorating her forearm were some triangular and diamond tattoo designs made mostly from dots. Both she and her husband wore large gold loop earrings at the top of their ears.

Further into the village, we saw an extended family for taking of a ceremony to Bala Bahuchar, the Hindu mother goddess. Large pots of rice, chapatis, and other food were first offered to the goddess, and then they ate. A farmer pushed his son who had severe cerebral palsy in a makeshift wheelchair made with a plastic chair. And father had recently purchased a repoussé silver leg symbol in hopes that his son would be cured and could then walk.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

At the Water's Edge

Moving onward, our driver took us to the outskirts of a village where women were drawing water out of a well. Balancing two pots of water on their heads, the women then proceeded towards the village. Even a little girl worked at carrying a bucket on her head. With a golden light of the late afternoon sun, the women in their brightly colored Ghanghara skirts, choli blouses, and odhni shawl, were stunning. Walking tall, they went past men resting in the shade. Other women were busy washing clothes at the water’s edge.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Meeting the Mir Tribe Family

After resting during the heat of the day, it was now time to meet some more local people. Our first stop was to a temporary settlement of a Mir family (semi-nomadic people from Rajasthan). Certainly not their first visitors, they brought out bangles and decorative items with broken mirrors in hopes that we would purchase something. Although living in a plastic tent, the females had quite a bit of jewelry. All the children had tousled hair that hadn’t been combed in quite some time.

Time for the young goat’s feeding, one of the girls scooped up the goat and asked to have her picture taken, still clutching a cell phone.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Working in the Heat - Dasada

Near a small village, the saw some men weighing newly harvested wheat using a crude scale with a large weight hanging from the opposite string. Nearby was a truck with a full load of cotton. Next to it was a farmer all dressed in white. It amazed me they could keep their clothes so clean looking. On the road back towards the resort, some workers including women wearing saris were repaving the road in the searing heat. Running out of an Islamic school where some children, still clutching their slates.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

By the Reservoir, Little Rann of Kutch

Crossing the cracked earth still sparkling with white salt residue, we once again reached the narrow road. In a field, women and children were squatting, gathering up cow pies. Immediately, lots of happy children ran up to greet us asking in English “What’s your name?” One of the girls had a pile of fresh dung in her hand. We reached into our pockets and gave the children some little prizes including matchbox cars, candy, and whistles. From the looks on their faces, you would think we had given them treasures. A small reservoir of water, now nearly dried up, was a source of activity. Water buffalo cooled themselves. Birds with stilt-like legs stood in the shallow waters. Young men formed bricks out of mud. Older women carried bowls of dirt on their heads. In a small clearing between thorny Acacia bushes, a mother and some children gather twigs, placed them in piles near their campfire pit. Judging from the presence of some cooking bowls and a crude tenant made out of sticks and plastic, I presumed this was their home.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Little Rann of Kutch Wildlife

Although the land looked quite barren, it was not devoid of life. The area is the last refuge of the Asiatic wild Ass. Considered highly endangered, recent conservation efforts have now increased the population to about 4,000. These tan- colored animals live in herds and survive by migrating between the grassy bets in search for food. Several were grazing on some low scrubby grasses that had moisture in their seeds. During our drive across the Rann, we saw a few Chinkaras (Indian gazelles), quail, predatory kite birds, a mongoose, and some flamingos which were in the salt marshes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Little Rann of Kutch - The Cotton and Salt Workers

The following morning, the owner of the resort took us in his Jeep towards the flat, stark, expansive area known as The Little Rann of Kutch. Along the way, we saw several women in bright clothes and a few men picking cotton. The women giggled in shyness as they continued picking the cotton by hand, placing it in large cloth bundles. Once the bundle was full, it was carried to a truck, a ready containing quite a bit of the white fluff. Shortly after that, the land became quite desolate looking.
In the distance, we saw some action near large white piles that looked like snow. In fact, these words helped flats, created during the monsoon season when the sea and rivers flood the region. Underground water in this area is also very salty, making it unsuitable for farming. Instead, the enterprising Indians ever used this area to harvest salt for domestic and some export use. Our driver turned off the road and onto the cracked land until we reached the salt workers. A few men scooped up dried salt into shallow bowls, which they then placed on top of the heads of women. The women then carried the bowl weighing about 20 kg (44 lb) and dumped the salt onto large piles. They would toil like this in the hot sun from about 8 AM to 2 pm every day during the 6 to 8 months of harvest. During this time, they would live and work in the flats. Noticing a few children, I inquired whether they went to school. According to our driver, about 40% do get an education, but NGOs are helping to improve this. No harvesting would occur during the monsoon. For every 50 kg bag, workers would get between 14 and 18 rupees ($0.30-$0.40). About 7,000 metric tons of salt are produced in this area.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Road to Dasada

Back on the road to Dasada, we were once again thrust back into agricultural land. Large combines from Punjab with motorcycles attached to the front drove in groups of four. The owners of these combines would go through various states in India, making quick work of harvesting in the fields. On the bed of trucks were large numbers of people going between villages and to fields. Others piled in carts attached to modified motorcycles. We would see many more such vehicles in Gujarat. Herds of water buffalo and large-horned cows also used the road for traveling, followed by their caretakers. There was notably less trash along the roadside. Sparse cotton fields and others with Castor plants were common. We stopped at one field where people were harvesting the castor beans, filling sacks with the beans. A real treat for my "always a farmer" dad.

It had been another full day, complete with ancient sites, a religious festival, incredible crafts, and rural life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bahucharaji Mataji Temple

On the way to Dasada, we passed several vehicles carrying a conical shape structure with brightly colored decorations. Our guide told us that it was used as part of the Kavadi celebration of the Hindu mother goddess. We stopped at the Bahucharaji Mataji Temple where devotees were engaged in celebration. Stalls leading up to the Temple sold coconut, bright cloth, sweets, flowers, red powder and a few other items. One man had a silver box containing silver repoussé representations of things people would wish for. For example, one might buy a figure of a child in hopes of having a baby, while a person who was lame might buy a representation of a leg, in hopes of being healed.

 Framed by a pair of carved stone columns was a small altar covered in red powder. Partially obstacle obscured by more red powder was a picture of the goddess Bala Bahuchar, whose blessing cured any disability and impotency. On the wall behind it, more red powder was spread, in the shape of swastikas and random fingerprints. Next to a small building were some eunuchs. Devotees began gathering around us, eager to take our picture with their families. Near a corner we saw one of the conical structures decorated with brightly colored streamers and a clay pot below it, representing fertility.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Modhera Sun Temple

After lunch at an AC restaurant without power, we went to the Modhera Sun Temple. Built in 1026 by King Bhima I of the Solanki dynasty this is one of several Sun temples in India. I had already seen the Sun Temple at Konark, Orissa. Upon reaching the site, the first thing we saw was the large kund also known as a ceremonial tank. Flights of stairs lead down to the water, with pyramidal stair steps leading down to the next level. The entire kund is shaped like an inverted pyramid. Scattered throughout are 108 shrines dedicated to various Hindu demi-gods. On three sides of the kund are three main shrines dedicated to Ganesh, Vishnu, and Shiva.

Adjacent to the tank was the entrance hall, which has 12 representations of Surya, the Sun god. These stand for the phases of the sun for each month of the year. Next was the Nritya Mandapa, a hall that leads from the assembly Hall towards the inner sanctum. It contained 52 pillars representing the 52 weeks of the year. Both the pillars and walls are decorated with murals that displayed a history of the time, lessons can mortality, descriptions of fairs and festivals and rituals of the time. It was here at dance performances took place.

We then reached the Garbhagriha (inner sanctum), where one could find carvings of deities in the strict order of their celestial hierarchy. The sanctum was so precisely designed that the first rays of the sun fell on the image of Surya at the equinoxes. The idol of Surya, made entirely out of gold, is now missing, plundered by Mahmud Gazni. This room had a particular odor to it. Looking up, we found the source–small bats hanging from the ceiling.

The exterior of the Temple is profusely decorated with poses of various gods and goddesses. Bosomed women with curvy hips are found throughout the façade. In addition, one can also find erotic scenes, a common theme found on many Hindu temples. Closer to the base was a role of elephants in a frontal view. Like many of the carvings throughout the Temple, they were quite worn and had some parts broken off. This was due to the soft sandstone used, worn over time, as well as by plundering.

Filtering the Opium

Filtering the Opium, originally uploaded by melissaenderle.

Watercolor of an opium ceremony in a Bishnois village near Jodhpur, Rajasthan http://bit.ly/j3AYnp

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mashru Weaving, Patan

Still wowed by the entire process and beauty of the Patola weaving, a man on a motorcycle led our car through the narrow maze-like streets of Patan, past cows and women carrying baskets of dried cow pies to his house. Here, an older woman demonstrated the weaving of Mashru cloth on a pit loom. In this style of weaving, the top (outer) side was woven with silk, and the inner side (touching the skin) out of cotton. This technique was used because Islamic law forbade pure silk. Such garments were once used as part of the dowry in India, along with being exported to Turkey and the Middle East. Today the Mashru weaving is done in only a few places, with Patan being one of the main areas.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Patan and Patola Weaving

Once the capital of Gujarat between the 8th and 15th centuries, this town is now famous for its Patola weaving. Here we met the Salvi family who has™ practiced their double-ikat weaving technique since the 11th century. Renowned for its gem-like colors, designs, and durability, Patola woven cloth has long been presented to royal courts throughout the world, including by the famous explorer Ibn Batuta. In places such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, Patola cloth was considered as magic, protective cloth – the cloth of the gods. Today, many of the Patola saris are gifted by wealthy families to their daughters or daughters-in-law at the time of marriage. Others become museum pieces.

The process by which the Patola silk cloth is woven sets it apart from other methods. In such double-ikat weaves, both the warp and weft threads are colored through a tie-dye method. Portions of the string that are to remain the current color are carefully wrapped, after which successive colors are added. The strings are tied, dyed, untied, and retied as needed until all colors have been added – a very laborious job. About 30 years ago, natural vegetable dyes have been re-introduced using colors from turmeric, marigolds, onion skins, pomegranate bark, madder, lac, catechu, cochineal, and indigo. Silk from China was used, along with that from the south Indian city of Mysore.

After the warp and weft threads are laid out, the weft threads are wound onto bobbins. Stretched on the primitive hand loom made from teakwood and bamboo strips were the taught warp strings. On the warp strings alone, the design of an elephant was already apparent. Such neatness would be carried out, that the finished cloth would be completely reversible. Two family members worked in tandem on the loom, moving the bamboo shuttle back and forth. One person carefully checked and ensured that the pattern of both warp and weft matched up, along with removing the tension of the warp threads with a large needle-like tool.

Such precision and attention to detail equates into a lengthy, laborious process. About 20-23 cm (8- 9”) can be woven by the pair in a day. Working at such a pace, it takes about 5-7 months to complete a sari of around 5.5 m (6 yards) from start to finish (depending on the complexity of the design) – including 40-50 days for the weaving process alone.

Read more about the Patola Weaving at http://www.patanpatola.com/index.html

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rani ki Vav Stepwell

Located 140 km (87 miles) from Ahmedabad is the famous stepwell of Rani ki Vav. Meaning “The Queen’s Stepwell,” it was at one time one of the largest and grandest of Gujarat’s stepwells. Built by Queen Udaymati as a memorial to her husband around 1026 AD, the stepwell is approximately 64 m long, 20 m wide, and 27 m deep (210 x 66 x 89 ft). Although the well has been damaged due to being silted up and only excavated after being re-discovered around 1958, one still can appreciate its excellent carvings – over 800 individual sculptures, mostly of Hindu deities. Totaling seven colonnaded floors, the stepwell has a lateral series of steps leading to what was the water’s edge. Just below the last step was a 30 km tunnel built for the king as an escape getaway in times of conflict, now blocked by stones and mud. Now on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list, the Rani ki Vav, once a refreshing spot enjoyed by travelers along the Silk Route, is now a significant tourist destination.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Colorful Ride to Patan

The northern drive to Patan was far from dull. Sharing the road with India’s colorful trucks were several types of animals. A brightly painted elephant with a rider on its back made its way down the road. A camel with dark decorative “tatoos” over its body pulled a cart containing some family members and goats. Two boys sat on saddled donkeys, leading their work donkey herd. Cows with thick horns ambled their way through villages. Bharwad shepherds led the sheep entrusted to them to graze in the fields. In return for herding the sheep for a month, our guide said the flock’s owners typically paid the shepherds about 25 rupees ($0.56) per sheep. In the fields, oil rigs were busy. In another field, women wearing brightly patterned skirts and one man gathered straw and carried it to a stack. All the work was done by hand – and in the heat.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Adalaj Vav Stepwell

Driving past a nuclear power plant, we drove north about 17 km (10.5 mi) to the stepwell known as Adalaj Vav. The guidebook I had described the step well as being one of Gujarat’s finest, and upon seeing it, I’d have to agree. It was built in 1499 to collect and conserve water in this arid region. Although it served a very important utilitarian purpose, the beauty of the structure suggests something more. As we began climbing down the 95 steps, the temperature became noticeably cooler – around 9° C less, changing it from around 35°C to 77°F at the lower level.

On both sides of the stairs were intricately carved horizontal detailing comprised of geometric and floral motifs, along with some figures. Light filtered through the colonnaded pavilions, beckoning visitors to sit, relax and socialize. For many centuries, women retreated to the well when gathering water, as did the Silk Road caravans. Niches, balconies, and windows were all elaborately carved. The balconies surrounding the five levels of the intermediate tank reminded me of a grand opera theatre, all with splendid views. People used to walk the final steps of this first well to take ritual baths. The main well with its 30 m (100 ft) shaft was widely used up to the early 20th century. In fact, our guide said that some water still exists in the well and is used to water the grass of the surrounding grounds.