In myriad hues

Vibrant:Rakshaben Bhatt with the Patachitra on silk at the exhibition.Photo: K.V. Srinivasan  

‘Kalayatan’ an NGO based in Madhapur near Bhuj in Gujarat, works to create and multiply wealth and value out of the embroidery skills among the Rabari tribal women of the region. To this day their typical embroidery form practised by every Rabari woman defines her way of life and is a badge of identity. Stitches with evocative names such as Banni, Mutwa, Jat, Soof and Ahir have created a craft language unparalleled as a living heritage. ‘Kalayatan’ works with 250 tribal women, who create a range of apparel such as kurtas, tops, ari saris, wall hangings, party bags and files, using the traditional embroidery language and skills in formats which are contemporary and in tune with today’s trends. “Yet the charm of traditional tribal embroidery comes through,” says designer Rakshaben Bhatt, who works with the women. “We often use old motifs and copy antique designs, but the design format is generally more uncluttered, the colours are often pastel, and the look unfussy.” She holds up kurta yolks with ‘pako’ embroidery in soft pastel colours, wall hangings with delicately embroidered Ganeshas done in ‘ahia’ stitches, ‘gajji’ silk saris spattered with ‘ahir’ motifs and ‘soof’ embroidery hand bags all of which are on view at Gurjari’s ‘Gujarati Handicrafts’ exhibition and sale currently on in the city.

Other handicrafts on display are the prettiest embroidered umbrellas or ‘chattris’ for puja rooms with zari and mirror work, a range of brilliantly coloured mobiles and puppets as well as Gujarat’s famous stuffed animals. Lovely block prints in vegetable colours and bandhini saris as well as appliqué work bed linen are also on offer.

Palm leaf etchings

Craft from other states too make vibrant festive statements. Debashish Sahu, paramparik palm leaf artist from Orissa, displays his two 60”x24” palm leaf etchings which depict the Ramayana and the story of Krishna. How does he achieve this level of delicacy and nuanced brilliance in his depictions?

“It’s a lengthy process,” says Sahu. “We first cut palm leaf and boil it in water with a touch of turmeric. After drying, we place palm leaf strips in double layers and stitch them up together to the desired length. Drawing is done thereafter in pencil, followed by etching and engraving with an iron needle.” This is where the craft skills of the artisan take centre stage as every strip is minutely covered with the unfolding stories taken from the epics and Hindu mythology.

Sahu continues, “We now prepare ‘soot’ by coating the underside of a pot with mustard oil and exposing it to fire, a process which leads to the creation of ‘soot’ which we remove. It is this soot powder mixed with water that is spread all over the etching. Again the palm leaf canvas is dried for three-four days and finally washed with soap. I also paint the palm leaf engraved canvas in vegetable colours. A palm leaf etching can last up to 1000 years.

Debashish Sahu’s masterpieces along with Patachitra on silk are on view at the exhibition. Also on view are Jodhpur’s white cedar Krishna icons and brass sheet embellished ‘peedis’ and ‘chowkis’ -- perfect accessories for the festive season. Gujarat Handicrafts is on view at Sri Sankara Hall, TTK Road, Teynampet, till July 30.