Over the generations, geometrical and floral patterns in dull colours on Rajasthani rugs have given way to bright hues and bold designs
In a difficult landscape, art often provides meaning to life and the artisans of Rajasthan have discovered ways to express their art through a variety of media — be it wood, metal, sand, stone, leather or cloth.
For centuries, weavers of Rajasthan have been crafting exquisitely woven durries or flat weave rugs in their backyards.
While Salawas, near Jodhpur, is an important centre of durry weaving in western Rajasthan, in the southern tip of the State, this art is practiced as a tradition by the Prajapats and Meenas of Ranakpur and Sadri.
How people of this region took to weaving is an interesting story that played out hundreds of years ago, when the tribal people of Mewar (southern Rajasthan region) used to seek shelter in temples.
It was then that they started weaving rugs for their own use, borrowing their designs heavily from the intricately carved pillars of the Ranakpur Jain temples.
Persian-Pakistani Kilims that were introduced to local artisans around the 14th century by trade caravans passing through the region also had a profound influence on the durries crafted in this region.
A few generations ago, some of the land surrounding the Adinath temple of Ranakpur was given by the Jain community to the tribal weavers. Since then, the weavers have been practising the traditional craft of durry weaving here, passing it down to subsequent generations over the years.
For a long time, these rugs, with simple geometric and floral patterns in dull colours continued to be the cheaper alternative to expensive carpets.
However, faced with stiff competition from machine made rugs flooding the markets, especially in the post-independence era, weavers of the Ranakpur Tribal Durry Udyog started experimenting with brighter colours and braver designs.
Most artisans here weave durries with cotton, often mixing it with wool gathered from goat and camel hair in a 20-80 ratio. Sometimes, on demand, cotton-silk durries are also made.
They use traditional vegetable dyes to colour the rugs. Some of the popular dyes and the colours they produce are henna (dark red), turmeric (yellow), saffron (orange), buckthorns (sap green) and indigo (hues of purple and blue) among others.
The artisans weave the durries in their homes and sell them directly to tourists passing by. “Since Ranakpur figures prominently on the Rajasthan tourism map, these people manage to get a steady flow of customers in the form of both international and domestic tourists,” says Hasmukh Sharma, a local tour operator who helps these artisans sell their product.
Of late, a lot of their durries are being bought by young, educated urban consumers, although traditional buyers have remained faithful customers too. Some durries are also shipped abroad depending on demand, says Hasmukh.
With neo-urbane home and interior décor increasingly moving away from modern clichés and closer to chic ethnic design elements, the durries have become popular as a sensible, organic, eco-friendly, politically correct style statement that fits the pocket.