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There are many different textile crafts that are carried out in Gujarat and here are some of the more popular.
Shisha/Shisheh/Abhia Bharat mirror work
The wrapping of small round pieces of mirror in embroidery and intertwined into patterns, is known as Mutua embroidery, Shisheh or Abhia Bharat. Shisheh is the Persian word for glass and Abhia Bharat is the Hindi name.
When first this style of mirror work emerged in 17thC India various things were used as the reflective element, like Mica, Beetle wings, Tin and Silver coins. This was replaced by very thin glass, made by blowing glass into large thin bubbles and snipped into shape by the women using special scissors. You can see this application used in virtually all their work, for wall hangings and torana (doorway hangings) and the small glints of tiny mirrors has another significance to the Rabari who believe it wards off the evil eye. In clothing it is mostly used on traditional folk clothes and creates a beautiful sparkly appearance, adding yet another layer of texture and vibrancy to the heavily embellished embroidery.
Abhia Bharat/Shisha mirror work is traditionally the embroidery of Kathiawar and Kutch regions of Gujarat but has become so popular it can be found all over India. The mirror circles are attached with stitches and often with chain stitch, with the work around it completed in stem and herringbone stitch in traditional colours of blue, red, green and pink. Floral motifs of various shapes and foliage, creepers, climbers, tendrils are the most common.
The greatest contribution to Indian embroidery is from this area of Gujarat state, precisely from Kutch and Kathiawar, however the beauty lies in the rich designs and the skill of the village women who do this work during their leisure time. After harvesting they engage in needle-crafts, making costumes for their family each year and also dowry items. This embroidery was introduced by ‘Kathi’ the cattle breeders, who were nomads brought by Karna the famous warrior of Mahabharat.
There are subtly different styles practiced by different tribes, the various clans of Ahirs, Manbis, Mochis and Rabaris. The complex caste stystem in India dictates the type of work practiced, with the Mochi being traditional shoe makers who live in multi-caste villages but occupy their own distinct quarters. In other areas of India the Mochi are involved with working tanned leather, making other items from leather as required. They do not do the tanning as this is the occupation of another clan.
The Ahirs were expert cobblers and their embroidery was purely for home use and not to the same standard as the Rabari. The Kanbi were cultivators, migrants from Saurashtra whose designs are influenced by Persian art (particularly sunflower and cactus flower). Mochi are also artisan cobbers and shoemakers but although their work is similar to the Ahirs it is worked differently. The Rabari however, have styles and techniques of embroidery that are entirely different from that of the other communities, they follow a different set of rules and a different lifestyle.
The Rabari work is impressive and attractive, usually done on a material of a maroon colour, it is heavy in weight and rich in complexity. The colours used are subtle and accentuate the stitchery, they also combine a type of applique work. Mostly it is seen on canopies, door curtains, wall decorations and other household articles, not so much on the main dresses and costumes because it lacks delicacy. When used on clothing it is most likely as a border design. As the small round mirrors are now also made by machine, it is possible to buy these in many places.
Lippan Kaam – mud relief work.
The application of small round mirrors also extends to the walls of homes. The buildings are traditionally round mud huts with thatched roofs, very plain simple and suitable for the climate, however the decorations inside and out can be stunning.
In the remains of the ancient settlements of the Indus Valley at the site of Dholavira were pieces of earthenware which had survived in its original form for five thousand years, this showed mud relief work. The circular mud houses are known as Bhungas and the village dwellers in Kutch decorate the walls of their houses with clay, dung, and mirrors. The clay mixture is manipulated into string like strands and then applied in patterns to form relief designs.
Clay is abundant in Kutch and the great Rann desert. It is pounded and sifted through a sieve to get a smooth powder. Ingredients are added to give it anti-cracking properties and the most common being dung from either camels or donkeys. The addition of mirrors makes the inside of the houses twinkle with the light from one lamp being thrown around the room to add brightness and decoration. On the outside of the homes the mirrors are used to ward off the evil eye, common themes being undertaken are Elephant, Camel, Peacock, Parrot, Scorpion, women with water pots on their heads or churning butter milk. Trees, flowering vines, hill and temples can all be seen as themes.
This technique has been perfected by a few individuals as a form of up-market interior design and can be seen in some five star hotels and in films.
The Kachchhi Rabari, (a sub-tribe of the Rabari) are excellent in this art form but it may be on the verge of extinction as the younger generation are not so interested in this work. The hamlets of Banni are full of this art and on every house you can see walls that are embellished with mud relief work. The designs used are influenced by their own embroidery; geometrical forms, pheasants and women with water pots are the most auspicious signs for this community.
The Mutwa are Islamic by religion so Mutwa mud work is slightly different here, being taken on by the men only and the designs contain no living forms but ornament of geometric and pattern. A lot of the old mud and mirror work was lost during the great earthquake of 2001, some places remain in this style. One of the villages called Hodka is considered the best of all the Kutch villages and known for good food, great hospitality and showcasing perfect examples of design and local skills. Close to the Rann desert (which it is worth visiting at sunset) Dhordo is another excellent village to visit for this type of expertise.
Some students of this craft have adapted the idea and now work it on wooden panels, substituting the rather pungent dung with something less smelly and thus broadening the appeal for this art.
Mata Ni Pacheadi
The Cloth of Goddess Mother, or Mata ni Pachedi, as the term is popularly called, is a very popular narrative scroll from Gujarat. These were made by the Vaghris, the wandering caste. The Vaghris were once a wandering caste, some of whom have now settled in Ahemdabad, the great industrialized city of Gujarat First they take a block and it is printed and then later they fill in the colours using a stick like the same way kalamkari work is done.
Patola of Patan (Double Ikkat Weaving)
The art of weaving double Ikat sari locally known as Patola is still surviving in Patan. It is the use of tie and dye technique which is used to make the double ikat. The warp and weft are both tied and dyed and then put on to the loom for weaving. There are only 2 or 3 family in patan doing this type of weaving. During the 15th 16 century the patola from patan was exported to Malaysia and Indonesia.
Mushroo is actually an Arabic word meaning permitted. In Islam it was prohibited to wear pure silk directly on to the body, and that is how this craft came into existence. The Mushroo fabric is made of Silk/Rayon warp and cotton weft. They are woven together and the end result is you get the silk/rayon threads on the outside and the cotton remains in the inside.
Ahir community consider themselves to be the down line of Lord Krishna and they migrated to Gujarat along with lord Krishna when he migrated from Mathura to Dwarka, the Ahir embroidery is one of the best in the region.
Rabhari which means wonderers and this community they say are the down line of Lord Shiva, and they are divided into various clans and the embroidery of each clan is different, and very beautiful
Muthwa community has migrated from Arabia or from sindh some 500 years ago, their embroidery is one the best in the region, they use very small mirror and also the use of gold thread is done by them. They are Muslims and among the 16 different Muslims clan in the kutch region.
Meghwals they consider them to be down line of Megh reshi and Mahatma Gandhi named them harijan, Gods owns People. Their house and embroidery is very beautiful, they also use mirrors in the embroidery and the house have beautiful mud and mirror work inside.