For the nomadic Rabari people, it is also a measure of their aesthetics and wealth.
They jab their needles expertly into the cloth, fuchsia pink and turquoise blue threads making peacocks and parrots and geometrics in chain stitch interlaced with dozens of glinting abalas or mirrors; round, rectangle, and triangular. The lovely ‘toran’ done, the Rabari embroiderers Lakshmiben and Jellyben fix the toran on the doorway, hang a pair of beautifully embroidered ‘latkans’ on the wall, scatter a few ‘chaklas’ or carpets on the floor, so densely embroidered that the cloth all but disappears from view!
Almost magically the two women from Kutch transform the CP Art Centre’s exhibition hall into a Rabari hut where every available space is filled with embroidered expressions of their identity and roots, which scholars trace to Baluchistan and beyond. For the nomadic Rabari people, embroidery is both script and record of their history, a measure of their aesthetics and wealth. For as far back as Rabari memory goes, the women have embroidered ‘ghagros’ ‘kanchalis’ (blouse), men’s ‘Kediyan’ or shirts and every lifestyle article from wall and floor coverings to camel saddle cloths, supari bags and much else. In fact embroidery literally surrounds the lives of the Rabaris.
With their stunning, full embroidered backless cholis, typical black Rabari lehnga and ludi or veil, Lakshmiben and Jellyben speak of their lives and that of other women of their community . “All Rabari girls begin to make their own dowries from the age of 14 or so. Embroidery is what
determines the ‘wealth’ of their dowry which could comprise 50 fully embroidered lehngas and cholis, any number of floor and wall coverings, ‘torans,’ etc. “Our ‘tankas’ and stitches are different and in our embroidery we tell stories of our past and the birds, animals and flowers around us. We don’t normally sell our embroidery unless need arises. Usually we do embroidery on items of daily use, dowries for our daughters, for celebrations, etc.
Rabari embroidery is indeed a celebration of the synergy of colours mostly shades of orange, pink, blue and white, and motifs whose imagery can be anything from geometry to flower, birds and animals, gods and goddesses. The stitches vary from square chain to herringbone, double button hole, pattern darning and running stitch.
Lakshmiben and Jellyben’s superbly embroidered skirts, salwar kameez outfits, dupattas and saris are on view at Sanskruti’s exhibition of ‘Kutchchi Embroidery and Block Prints.’ Also on view are antique wall hangings and cradle cloths. Tie-and-dye saris from Mundra conceived by National awardee Shri Khatri are compelling attractions at the exhibition along with block printed and embroidered saris and yardage in cotton, gajji, silk etc.
Sanskrutie’s ‘Kutchi Embroidery and Block Prints’ exhibition is on view at C.P. Arts centre, Eldams Road, Alwarpet, till July 24.