A land with many reasons to celebrate, a land with unparalleled spirit, always on the run; this land of Western India is named Gujarat. Very traditional in its roots yet one of the most forward societies of the country, Gujarat has left many a things behind. But down the memory lane, we realize that old arts and traditions are still running in its veins.
Art and crafts are weaved along with Gujarat since the time of the nomadic men and the cave age. Over the years, some of the arts were abandoned; some were made more creative while some were perceived as a routine culture and tradition. It is nothing less than a treat to know more about these art forms, most of which remain unexplored even today.
Gujarat offers innumerable opportunities to peep into its art and culture. If we consider the three important segments of human life, Roti, Kapda aur Makan, the state offers the best in each of these. When it comes to the household utilities needed to earn a living, there is the terracotta art, pottery, beadwork, metal utensils and the extraordinary Namda art. When it comes to clothing, it has a legacy of weaving, handicrafts, embroideries, block printing and the very best sarees like Patola and Bandhani. The most picturesque, though, remains the house-turned-home through the lovely Pithora paintings and the intricate woodcarving.
THE AURA OF LIFE ON WALLS: PITHORA
Before thousands of years, there existed the tradition of cave paintings. And Pithora paintings find their roots there. This is the most prevalent and characteristic art tradition of the Rathwa community, of the Central Gujarat. The Pithora paintings are crude and it is this crudity that adds to the beauty and simplicity of the paintings. An interesting fact of these paintings is that only men are allowed to pursue this art.
Most of the Indian Arts have some legends attached to its origin. Pithora paintings are no exceptions. These paintings are made with the basic intention to appease or thank the Gods or for a wish to be granted. The head priest is summoned and the problems are narrated. Then after the solution is given by the priest, the rituals of paintings start. Animistic figures – bull, horses, birds and tigers are an inseparable part of each Pithora Painting. But now as the times are changing, one can find the paintings of airplanes, trains, cars and other such modern things. The paintings flood three walls of the house and the main wall of the verandah that divides it from the kitchen is called the Pithoro.
While the painters paint, others sing, dance, drink and feast!
TERRACOTTA: CAUGHT IN THE TATTERS
Terracotta can be called a type of clay modeling. Terra means the ‘Earth Soil’ in Latin and ‘Cotta’ means statue in Italian language. It is believed that the communities called the Rathwas and the Bhils of Gujarat are blessed with this art. Terracotta is originally a female creation. When the men of the family were busy hunting, farming or a small scale business, the women engaged themselves in making articles out of clay. At a later stage, the womenfolk who were wise enough started translating their imaginations into the work of art.
An apt amount of refined clay is the main element of the Terracotta. This clay is dried and then cast, molded or hand worked into the desired shape. The drying needs to be thorough. After this assurance, the material is then put into a furnace or on the top of a combustible pit and fired. After firing, the pit or the furnace is then covered with sand to cool. Terracotta changes after the firing. The most common colors are orange, brown or orangish red due to the iron content in the common clay.
The figures include horses, cows, bulls, buffaloes, elephants, replicas of insects that destroy the crops and also human beings. The horse is considered the most important of these clay figures and offered quite regularly at the shrines. Gujarat is also known for Dhabu, a Terracotta art that is dome shaped houses offered to the spirits of the dead.
GET TIED, DON’T LET IT DIE: THE TIE & DYE ART
Gujarat is better called Manchester of the East. It has been involved in textiles since centuries. Almost all parts of the state have a unique style of textiles, weaving and embroideries. One such art that is almost synonymous to the heritage of Gujarati textiles is the Patola (Saree) of Patan. Even before the invention of machines, this craft was developed with the help of insight and strength. It is believed that Patolas date back to the 4th century AD and the art originated in Patan, North Gujarat.
The word Patola comes from the term ‘Patt’ that means a silk cloth in Tamil and Malayalam. The style of Patola that is weaved in Patan is called ‘Double-Ikat’ (Ikat is an Indonesian word).
The Patolas are produced from thousands of years by the same process as it was before, until today. No technician or invention of machines is in a position to make a single percent modification in the technique and the process of preparing a Patola, as it is a special skill. The peculiar way of preparing the warp and weft used in Patolas, gives it an appearance of double cloth though it is single with the same colors in particular design on both the sides.
Owning a Patola is definitely priceless. The process of coloring the threads takes nearly 75 days, followed by 3-4 months by 4-5 artisans to weave just one sari. A weaver can weave only 5-6 inches within a day. After working for 10-12 hours a day, no holidays and a group working together, it takes almost one and half year to complete a Patola sari.
‘Chhellaji re mare hatu Patan thi Patola mongha laavjo…’ is a very famous folk-song in which a wife puts forward her demand for an expensive Patola to her husband. Just like the popularity of the song, the fame and charm of Patolas is unrivalled even today.
THE WOODEN BLEND OF CULTURE: WOOD CARVING
Wood carvings in Gujarat enjoy a unique quality and that is due to the blend of two cultures: Islam and Hinduism. The craftsmen did a wonderful job through expression of their personal feelings and understanding of the world around them. Wood carving here is not limited to the public architecture but is visible in the Havelis and private houses of the ancient times. Nawab’s Palace in Palanpur and intricate jharokhas (windows) carved out of wood or Havelis (mansions) in Vaso with their wealth of wooden architectural details are some of the examples of wood carving tradition in Gujarat.
Interestingly, wood was never a locally available material and was always imported into Gujarat from different timber producing regions. But today, Gujarat is among the only three regions of India where precious wood-work has still survived. These three regions are the Himalayan region particularly Nepal, parts of South India and Gujarat. The wood-carver community of Gujarat is known as the Mewara Mistris, who work in rural and urban areas.
Be it the cantilevered balconies, majestic doors, idols of deities, toys, blocks for printing, cradles, cup-boards, swings or jewellery boxes, Gujarat has it all.
FELT AND FELTED HOSPITALITY: NAMDA
Gujarat is the land of warmth and hospitality. It is full of rituals and customs, one such custom is sitting on the floor. Be it for the purpose of having meals, socializing or performance of some ritual. And what can be a better treat than a hand-made rug to form the floor covering. A Namda carpet is one of the known floor coverings made from hand-made woolen sheets and are decorated with traditional embroidery and appliqué designs.
Namda is an Urdu word, a Kashmiri styled carpet adopted by the felt artisans of Kutch. These artisans earlier used to put together animal saddles for royal families. The Pinjara community of Gujarat is known to practice the Namda art and later they are being known as the Namdagar as well.
Namda is a felted textile product. It is made from sheets of beaten wool. It applies non-woven techniques of felting to create these sheets. Layers of compressed wool are then stuck together with natural gum. After being completed, embroidery is executed in woolen yarn.
Namda is an all-purpose article, indispensable to daily life. It can be used as a floor bed, pillow, dining table, wall hanging, sofa throws or even corner mats. Apart from these, Namda products are in high demand in the cold countries as they work as insulators.
IT’S OUR RESPONSIBILITY
All states have their own set of arts. But what sets Gujarat apart is, the artists here pursue the arts not just as a skill or business, but as a passion. Agreed that these arts require skills, but the skill of maintaining and valuing this heritage that the masters of the past have left for us to admire and carry forward lies in our hands.