Unveiling the art and crafts of Gujarat
Discover exquisite handicrafts from 10 towns across Gujarat - from the Sadeli craft (marquetry) of Surat to the Pithora paintings of Chhota Udepur to the Tangaliya weaving of Surendranagar to the Terracotta Horses of Poshina
Welcome aboard. Discovering and exploring the hidden treasures of Gujarat, from embroidery to tie-dye to block printing to beadwork to metalworking to woodcarving to lacquer work to pottery to marquetry to quilting to stone carving to more is on the itinerary today.
Gujarat has a rich and colourful legacy of weaving and handicrafts. Situated on the west coast of India, the state has cultivated trading partnerships with people from lands across the Arabian Sea for generations. Traders, invaders, colonisers, migrants and refugees have landed here with riches, dreams, and skills that have become part of the heritage of the state. The palaces, forts, havelis, mansions, mosques, temples, and mausoleums that dot different parts of the state reflect the richness of crafts and skills nurtured from medieval times.
Key Crafts: Sadeli, Zari
The heart of Sadeli crafts lies in Surat. Sadeli is a form of marquetry that showcases the art of decorating the surface of wooden articles with delicate pieces of wood and other materials in precisely cut geometrical shapes. Sadeli bears a striking resemblance to Khatam, a Persian version of marquetry, which is said to have developed in Iran during the reign of Safavid dynasty from 1501 to 1722. The processes, techniques and motifs of khatamkari marquetry are said to have been brought to Surat by the Parsis who came Gujarat from Iran, which gave rise to the craft of Sadeli.
Sadeli craftsmen are mostly skilled carpenters. It is a patient and precise craft. Originally, Sadeli was used mainly to decorate doors, windows, and furniture. Today, however, Sadeli craftsmen use their skills to embellish jewellery boxes, photo frames, and other products. Cutting wood pieces and other materials, artisans glue them together in patterns that form intricate colours, shapes, and dimensions.
Rakesh Pethigara, a Sadeli craftsman says, “The quality of the craftsmanship is judged by the intricacy of detail of the geometric forms used in a surface. We successfully apply 250 pieces in one square inch of a wooden surface. This art is distinct from inlay-work, as in we do not inlay wood but create a decorative layer for wooden products.”
A major manufacturing centre for textiles, Surat is also known for zari embroidery and aari khatla work. Both are done employing a long needle on fabric stretched over a charpoi cot-like frame called khatla (the Gujarati word for cot).
Where to Shop:
The Petigara family runs a Sadeli workshop and a shop at 7/B 212, Dhobi Seri, Syedpura, Surat, Phone 09374542424. For embroidered fabrics and zari, visit the textile markets of Surat and the artisan workshops on Varaccha Road.
Key Crafts: Woodworking
Sankheda Colourful Wooden Furniture & Lacquerware
Sankheda in Vadodara district is well-known for its colourful wooden furniture. It is an excellent example of woodworking, woodturning, lacquerware and hand-painting on wood. An artisan community called Kharadi Suthars make this furniture. They use hand-held tools, lathes, and simple machinery to do so. The tradition of making hand-painted furniture in Sankheda dates back to the mid-1800s.
To begin with, the Suthars turn blocks of wood on lathes. Then they shave and smooth it to achieve the characteristic rounded shapes. Next, each piece is painted by hand in colours like maroon, vermilion, green and brown, often picked out with gold or silver, and floral patterns, peacock motifs and abstract drawings to delicate lacelike forms. A brush made from very fine squirrel’s hair is typically used for painting. After painting, the pieces are coated with lacquer.
Anil Kharadi, owner of a Sankheda furniture workshop says, “The lacquer-ware style called atishi is used for Sankedha furniture. This involves a cast of violet dye over which an emulsion prepared from kalai or tin is used to paint the designs. The product is then glazed next with a hard stone called akik while being turned. This process is followed by imparting a transparent lacquer coat using a lacquer stick after which the kalai work beneath gleams to give the finished product a fiery golden-yellow effect. This process is what gives Sankheda’s furniture its distinctive metallic shine.”
Finally, the pieces are drilled to create space for tongue and groove or other forms of joinery required to fit and turn them into pieces of furniture.
While Sankheda is largely known for its furniture and low stools called bajoths, the Suthars also produce smaller items like dandiya sticks, candle stands, powder boxes, toys, utensils, rolling pins, and lacquered wooden temples.
Where to Shop:
The main market of Sankheda has showrooms of many leading workshops where the lacquer-ware is made.
3. CHHOTA UDEPUR
Key Crafts: Pithora Painting
Chhota Udepur and nearby towns in Vadodara, Panchmahals, and Dahod districts are the centres for many arts and crafts associated with tribal groups. One of which is the highly ritualistic art form called pithora paintings done by communities like the Rathwas.
Guided by rituals conducted by the Badvo officiating as the head priest for the associated rituals, the pithora or pithoro painting is executed by the Lakahara group. This is a form of painting done either to celebrate an auspicious occasion or call upon Pithora Baba to solve problems like disease or drought. The legends and events related to this revered tribal lord dominate the pithoro and the ceremonies that are an integral part of the art form involve song, dance, drinking, and feasting.
The process begins with treating the walls with cow dung and white chalk powder, usually brought by unmarried girls. Powders, earth, and vegetable colours are mixed with milk and mahuda flower liquor to prepare the dye for the pithoro in colours like yellow, indigo, orange, green, vermillion, red and silver. The brushes are made from bamboo, neem, and other twigs that are frayed by chewing, beating, and other methods. The painting begins after the offerings are made to the lord.
The Badvo chanting the prayers and tales go into a trance while the pithoro is being painted. The marriage of Pithora Baba and Pithori with processions of vibrant dancing people and animals dominate most pithoros. They also depict the elements of life among the Rathwas—like musicians, dancers, protecting, feasting, men climbing palm trees, milking of cows, livestock at pasture, women churning butter, and bullock carts ploughing a field. Raja Bhoj with an elephant procession is another distinctive feature of many pithoros. Animistic figures of bulls, horses, birds, and tigers are part of each pithoro. Live sacrifices are offered near the tiger pictures.
Today, the Rathwas are bringing the pithoro into the mainstream at craft fairs and other events by doing these paintings on cloth or paper.
Dahod and Panchmahals Districts have significant tribal populations. These are excellent places to explore the art of pottery and terracotta figures practices by potters called Kumhars and jewellery made by the Soni community.
Where to Shop:
Visit the Chhota Udepur market, especially on Saturdays, when you can explore a weekly mart called Haat and look for these crafts. The Bhasha Kendra at Tejgadh near Chhota Udepur is also a helpful place to source the handicrafts.
Key Crafts: Handloom weaving and textile embellishment
Tangaliya Work (aka Tangalia, Tangalio)
Meet Tangalio, a rare and unique weave from Surendranagar district. Surendranagar district has one of the largest handloom clusters in Gujarat. Tangalio can be seen in Bajana, Wadhwan, Sayla, and other villages in this region.
The Tangalio weavers are adept at adding extra knots on the weft which create motifs and figures in a dotted pattern on the woven fabric. Using this technique, artisans weave shawls, stoles and garments. The single Ikat done at various places in this district, including Somasar and Sayla, creates a less expensive version of the ultra-rich double Ikat Patolas of Patan.
The weaver families go through continual resist drying of the warp threads before drawing them on the loom to weave the fabrics, mainly saris and stoles. The Bharwad women of Surendranagar district are adept at doing beadwork. They attach beads to a cloth by using needle and thread and create decorative items, ornaments, garments, wall hangings, and torans using this craft.
In Dasada, about 15 families of semi-nomadic Mirs have started making beaded bangles for sale to tourists visiting the Little Rann of Kutch.
Wadhwan is an important centre for bandhani tie-dye and metalwork. The utensils of Wadhwan, like the brass gadhas, are especially famous. Surendranagar district is also an important centre for stone carving. Dhrangadhra is well-known for its sandstone carvings.
Where to Shop:
Visit the markets of Surendranagar and Wadhwan, and the khadi emporia and manufacturing centres in Surendranagar, Sayla, and other centres. Visiting the respective villages can also be a good way to buy the handicrafts directly from artisans.
Key Crafts: Brass embellished wooden chests and boxes
Embellished Wooden Chests & Boxes
Jasdan is an important centre for the production of brass-ribbed chests called pataras or pataris and boxes embellished with metalwork. A patara is typically made of teak wood and contains eight or more drawers. Traditionally covered with brass and copper, now white metal is being increasingly used in their making.
The box is strengthened with thick black metal pieces and decorated with thin pieces of white metal, embossed on the wood. The chests are lined with brass strips and brass stoppers are fixed.
The chests were used for storage and traditionally as dowry and trousseau carriers. Some really fine pataras can be seen in the museum collections of Hingolgadh Castle and the Gondal Palace.
Apart from the chests, the artisans of Jasdan and nearby villages produce ornate jewel boxes with brass and other metal decorations.
Rajkot district is well-known for its gold jewellery and silverware, including jewellery, boxes, furniture, and utensils made from silver. Traditionally handcrafted, now mechanisation has been introduced. Rajkot’s wood artisans produce meenakari style painted furniture. Jetpur is an important centre for block printing and screen printing.
Where to Shop:
Pataras and jewel boxes can be bought in the main market and Lathi Bazaar of Jasdan.
The Udhyog Bharati (Telephone: +91-02825-220177, 240377, Bhavan: +91- 02825-223859 Fax No: +91-02825-220177 email: [email protected]) and Khadi Plaza of Gondal also sell the jewel boxes and smaller versions of the pataras.
Soni Bazaar and Palace Road in Rajkot are excellent places for silverware, with well-known jewellery shops like Premji Valji, JC Kansara, and Popular Art Jewel. The Darbargadh Road of Gondal also has silver workshops. For printed fabrics, visit the factory outlets in Jetpur.
Key Crafts: Metal Utensils of Sihore
Metal utensils of Sihore
Sihore is situated 20 km from Bhavnagar. It has a tradition of crafting metal utensils. The Kansara artisans of Sihore are known for the superbly crafted metal utensils. Working with brass, copper and bronze, the thalis and bowls made by the Kansaras of Sihore are popular with restaurants in cities like Ahmedabad, Vadodara, and Surat. The Kansaras make several kinds of utensils, and also solid brass chains with ornate motifs for swings and other uses.
Bhavnagar district is known for a variety of handicrafts, including Gohilwad Rabari and Koli embroidery, beadwork, bird hangings, Botad’s pottery, Sihore’s bronze and copper work, Palitana’s metal-embossed woodwork and stonework, and Mahua’s lacquer work. Botad has become an innovative centre for pottery, producing a variety of decorative terracotta items, contemporary products and ceramic jewellery.
Where to Shop:
There are workshops for metal vessels in Sihor. For terracotta products in Botad, visit the Prajapati potters that are found in the town.
Key Crafts: Bandhani
Jamnagar is known for its bandhani, an ancient intricate art of tie-dyeing. Bandhani gets its name from Bandhan, the Hindi word for tying.
The fabric is pinched together in selected places – according to the pattern lightly drawn or block-printed on the surface in fugitive colours that fade away – and tied round with thread or twine and coated with material that resists the dye before immersion in a dye-bath. The threads or twines are then removed to reveal a pattern in the original colour. The process is often repeated to create a variously-coloured bandhani pattern. It can take up to six months to a year for most saris to be completely dyed and even the simplest patterns can take more than a month before the sari is ready for the market.
Entire families work at homes or at workshops in their residential areas and often family members develop their own specialised expertise in tying, dyeing red, and other dark colours, and pastel shades, to name a few examples.
In Gujarat, bandhani has always been a favoured bridal dress, specially the gharchola sari which is usually red or green in colour, patterned with yellow and white dots often depicting floral and other motifs. The trousseau of women from Saurashtra was rarely complete without a panetar sari in gajji silk with rich borders and central medallions, usually white with red tie-dyed dots.
The Bhatiya community of Jamnagar district preferred the traditional design called the zari kyara with square grid work of varied bandhani patterns on fine cotton depicting elephants, floral patterns, birds, dancing figures, and other motifs.
The Jamnagar, Kutch and Surendranagar districts are all known for their bandhani artisans, but the Jamnagar bandhani is most sought after because the ahores of the Rangmati and Nagmati, two rivers whose mineral-rich waters used in the post-dyeing immersion process are believed to increase the richness and fastness of the colours.
Vanza Bharat of Vanza Pottery, Botad, Bhavnagar district Crafts of Bhavnagar district Bandhani tie-dye in Jamnagar Gopaldas Hirji, a bandhani specialist shop in Jamnagar says, “Today, the artisans of Jamnagar make saris and other fabrics that fuse bandhani with various other handcrafted surface ornamentations like the laheriya wavy tie-dyed patterns associated with Rajasthan, shibori patterns adopted from Japanese tie-and-dye techniques, hand-painting, embroidery, sequins, crystals. The bandhani odhnis, chaniya cholis and other products are also decorated with mirrors, gota and tassels to enhance their dressiness for special occasions.”
Jamnagar is known for its metal crafts, zari and jewellery.
Where to Shop:
Chandi Bazaar, the Darbargadh area, and New Super Market are good places to buy bandhani. Reputed shops include Mahavir Bandhani and Vanza Umar Ibrahim.
8. DHAMADKA – AJRAKHPUR
Key Crafts: Ajrakh block printing
Ajrakh Block Printing
Dhamadka has long been a centre for block printing. The artisans of this region are called Khattries. They are believed to have come to Dhamadka from Sindh in medieval times.
After the destruction of the workplaces and residences of Khattries in Dhamadka by the 2001 Earthquake, an alternative site called Ajrakhpur was developed. The two villages of Ajrakhpur are known for Ajrakh, an intricate art of resist block printing fabrics that uses a resist, mordant, or both. The artisans go through a lengthy process that involves treating fabrics to applying handheld wooden blocks with designs in relief to finishing it in the form of eye-catching prints of beautiful patterns.
Where to Shop:
Most of the artisan workshops have block printed fabrics for sale. The Craft Resource Centre (Khamir Craft Resource Centre, Bhuj Tel.:+91-2832- 271272/271422 Email: [email protected] khamir.org) at nearby Kukma can be a good place to get information about buying fine Ajrakh work.
Key Crafts: Weaving
Bhujodi is well-known for its Vankars; weaver families, who produce colourful shawls, traditional blankets like the dhabda, dhablas, and floor coverings like woollen durries. Many of the weavers of this village have won prestigious national awards for their work. The shawls and other products are distinguished by their intricate woven patterns, tight weaving, and embellishments with tie-dye or embroidery.
The weavers work on a throw shuttle or a fly shuttle pit loom, or occasionally frame looms. The colourful shawls and durries of Bhujodi are usually woven with motifs passed down through generations of artisan communities. While usually wool was sourced from the pastoral communities like the Rabaris, the weavers today also use cottons, Merino wools, acrylics and silks. The shawls may be embellished further with tie-dye, mirror-work embroidery and other handwork.
Bhujodi is also known for Rabari and Marwada embroidery, woodcarving, and other handicrafts.
Where to Shop:
The Hiralaxmi Memorial Craft Park, (Near Bhujodi Village, Tel: +91-2832- 240495-240496 Fax : +91- 2832-240332 Email : [email protected] hmcraftpark.com) developed by the Ashapura Group at Bhujodi, is an excellent place to watch craftspeople at work on various handicrafts and buy directly from the source.
Key Crafts: Terracotta horses
Sabarkantha district (the village of Poshina in particular) is known for its votive terracotta figures. These figures are an integral part of the rituals practiced by tribal communities like the Garasia Adivasis.
The terracotta horse called Ghoda Dev has special place in these rituals and is considered a messenger for the gods in many cultures. The symbolic sacrifice of terracotta horses for fulfilment of wishes is common, and at some sites you can see scores of terracotta horses that have stood here for decades.
The potters are called kumhars. Kumhars make the various hollow parts of the terracotta horse on their wheels and then join them together. Some parts moulded by hand and added in grooves. These terracotta horses, elephants and other figures are becoming popular adornments for houses and gardens.
Poshina village is also the centre for the making of silver jewellery and tribal adornments.
Where to Shop:
To begin with, do walk around the village of Poshina and find potters that make the terracotta horses and earthen ware. Also, the village market can be a good place to buy tribal crafts.
OTHER ICONIC CRAFTS OF GUJARAT
Agate Stone Items
Khambatt or Cambay produces jewellery and decorative items using polished agate stones.
Agate, or Akik as it is called in Gujarat, is ideal for arts and crafts because of fineness of grain and brightness of colour. The stone is said to have been used for crafts in Gujarat from 7000BC. Beautiful agate beads were made during the Harappan period in Lothal. The Roman Emperor Nero is said to have coveted Gujarat’s agate cups and Pliny mentions agate stones from the Gulf of Khambatt in his writings. The Siddis, a community of African origin, is said to have come to Bharuch district with their leader Baba Ghor because of the agates found in this area.
This stone is mined in the hills and riverbeds by tribal groups like the Bhils, and after sorting by colour and quality transported to Khambatt. The nodules are sun-dried and then heated to fracture regularly before the rough cut, after which they may be re-heated with oxidizing iron or other materials that give it the reddish orange colour.
After chipping and flaking, the agate bead goes for drilling and polishing. Lamp shades and lamp bases, decorative trees, small ornate items and jewellery are made using agate in different colours.
Nutcrackers & Pen-knives
Anjar is an important centre for metal crafts. The artisans, some of them ancestral swordsmiths, make exquisite nutcrackers fashioned in different mythical, human, animistic, bird and abstract figures, and knives with ornate handles and sheaths.
Ganga Bazaar and shops in the main market of Anjar are worth exploring. Kothara and Reha Nana are other places for nutcrackers. Copper engraving is done in Anjar and Bhuj.
Artisans called Luhars at villages of Nirona and Jhura cast bells in different sizes that when played as a set produce musical notes. These bells are usually cast for the identification of cows when they are at pasture. Nowadays, the Luhars also make bells for temples and modern uses like chimes.
After crafting the cylindrical body and domed crown from iron, the family members coat the bell with copper. The sound of each bell depends on its design and the luhars take pride in the music that their bells can produce when struck, though they themselves have no musical background.
Kutch is well-known for its woodcarvings and other woodcrafts. At Nirona and Jhura, artisans called Vaadas make lacquered wood products.
Bhujodi, Dumado, Ludia, Khavda, Kapurasi, Kuriyana, Jhinkada, and Gorewali are famed for their woodwork.
Idar is highly regarded for its wooden toys. Himmatnagar and Bhavnagar also produce wooden toys.
Other places for woodcrafts are Mahuva, Sawarkundla, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Khambaliya (Jamnagar district), Chittal (Amreli district), and Tharad.
Traditional stone carvers called Sompuras work on different stones to create sand stone carvings in Dhrangadhra, which is popular for images, latticework, carved walls. Ambaji is reputed for its marble carving.
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