Crafts of Kutch - Rogan Art, Ajrakh & more (Gujarat - India)

This article first appeared in My Travelogue by Bhushavali
 
When I visited Gujarat, I dedicated a day for shopping to buy Kutch handicraft items, but not in the cities, but directly from the artisans in their own villages in Kutch! Bhuj is almost an overnight train journey from Ahmedabad. At Bhuj, we hired a car and went on a village-hopping to various Kutch handicraft villages all over Kutch (Kachchh) stopping at various places to visit in Kutch to experience the various Kutch handicrafts. 

KUTCH ART & CRAFT
Each village here has a unique handicraft and we stopped at each village to see and understand the crafts as well as, of course, do some shopping!!!! All these crafts are traditional crafts that are being practised by the families for several generations!!! 
Skip to the end for a video of all kutch crafts.
 
Wooden blocks of Ajrakh printing, Bhuj


Ajrakh printing, Bhuj

Bhushavali and Ismail Khatri Ajrakh Print Bhuj
 
KUTCH HANDICRAFT VILLAGES & FAMOUS KUTCH HANDICRAFTS 

AJRAKH (BLOCK PRINTING) IN BHUJ - CRAFTS OF KUTCH
My 1st stop was of course to meet Dr.Ismail Khatri, who makes block printed Ajrakh fabrics. 

Authentic Indian hospitality: I had met him earlier in Chennai and when I decided to visit Bhuj, I called him and he invited me to his home for breakfast as soon as we reach Bhuj! A super-heavy breakfast of authentic Ragi and Jowar Rotis with super thick homemade yoghurt from the milk of his own buffaloes! I hadn't tasted something like that ever before. It was so yummy, so filling and so authentic!!! 
After enjoying his hospitality, I began to look into what I went there for - Ajrakh Printed fabric, one of the spectacular handicrafts of Kutch. 

Why is Ajrakh fabric called so? Ajrakh comes from the term 'aaj-rakh' - 'keep it for today', implying, everything used to get sold out in 1 day. 

Ajrakh printing colours & process: The studio where the Ajrakh Printing process happens is large. Being a block printed fabric, the main tool here is, of course, the gorgeous wooden blocks. They are super adorable! Like most other block printed fabrics all over India, here too, a print can consist of multiple colours which mean there are multiple blocks that form the various parts of the design. There are guidelines on the blocks to help alignment of the various parts of the same design. The first step is block printing (after curing the fabric). The colours are all plant colours. The main fabric colour is blue from natural indigo, so there are indigo vats that are in huge containers where the fabrics are boiled to fix the colours. The next step is drying which is done by sun-drying. It is easy in this very hot region. The final step is washing There is a very innovative, flowing water set up to imitate a river's currents which is essential for the final washing of the printed fabrics. 
 
Ajrakh printing process, Bhuj

Ajrakh Printing process, Bhuj

Ajrakh Printing process, Bhuj

Ajrakh Printing process, Bhuj
 
BANDHEJ (TIE & DYE) IN BHUJ - CRAFTS OF KUTCH
My 2nd stop was to see the Tie-dye craft called Bandhej. I met Shri.Ali Mohammad Isha Khatri

How is Bhuj Bandhej (Bandhni) fabric different? While tie-dye as it is, is not uncommon and is often done as a DIY by many, the intricacy of this bandhani work is just too good to be true! He has a needle-like attachment on his finger with which he pushes just a teeny-tiny bit of fabric up for tying!

Bhuj Bandhej process: The graph is plotted on the fabric to guide the tying process. The designs are symmetrical, meaning, the fabric is folded and then tieing is done. Then the needle-like attachment is used to pick the fabrics (2 or 4 layers of fabric depending on the design symmetry & fabric thickness) and a cotton thread is used to tie them off. A few twists over the fabric and then a knot finishes a tie. The thread isn't cut off there (unlike DIY projects) but carried over to the next tie. After completing the ties, the fabric is dyed. For multicoloured tie-dye patterns, the lightest colour is first dyed after tying the white spots. Then the process is repeated adding ties on the light coloured spots and dying the next darker colour. The process goes on till the darkest colour is dyed. Mostly, after drying, the fabric is stored as it is and the customer can open the knots themselves!
 
Bandhej Bhuj Ali Mohammad Isha Khatri

Bandhej process with Dr. Ali Mohammad Isha Khatri

Bhuj Bandhej process with Dr. Ali Mohammad Isha Khatri

Bhuj Bandhej process with Dr. Ali Mohammad Isha Khatri

Bhuj Bandhej process with Dr. Ali Mohammad Isha Khatri
 
VANKAR HANDLOOM WEAVING IN BHUJODI - CRAFTS OF KUTCH
My 3rd stop was at Bhujodi and I met Shri.Chaman Siju here, who also I had met earlier in Chennai to witness Bhujodi weaving which is a Bhujodi handicraft by Vankar community, a beautiful, traditional Kutch embroidery handicraft, kutch weaving technique.

What is special about Bhujodi weaving? Bhujodi fabrics - are they embroidered or woven? It is a magical space in between!!! The motifs are made manually, 'while' weaving, and not on a fabric! It is a bit like dobby, but not really dobby... Bhujodi weaving is a handloom weaving technique. Between the weft insertions, a tiny shuttle with a different coloured yarn is used to make little motifs by manually counting the threads.
It's just beautiful! The various families who practice Bhujodi Weaving here each do fabrics of different weights - from superfine fabrics for clothing to shawls to super thick fabrics for rugs.  
 
Hand woven rugs by Vankar community, Bhujodi
   
Copper plated bells of Jhura, Kutch
 
COPPER-PLATED BELL MAKING IN JHURA (ZURA) - CRAFTS OF KUTCH
How to reach Jhura (Zura)? Reaching here was unbelievable. I mean, we were on the NH341 and took a diversion into this road which looks like a path to the middle of nowhere, not a soul, not a vehicle, not a building in sight, most of the path! It was unbelievable to even just witness the village, leave alone the craft. Here, we met the family of Shri.Hussein Siddiq Luhar

What is the speciality of Jhura (Zura) Copper-plated Bells? The speciality of the Jhura (Zura) copper-coated bells is that they are not made with a mould or fire, but by beating strips of metal to the desired shape and interlocking the pieces!!! It is quite fascinating to watch the craftspersons creating the bells. The Jhura (Zura) bells are made of iron metal and then they are baked with copper, zinc and brass and then it is further sunned, after which the bells get their gorgeous golden, copper colour!

How were Jhura (Zura) bells traditionally used? Today, they range from tiny bells for accessories to huge ones for home decor! Traditionally these were used to accessorize cattle! 

WOODEN LACQUERED WORK IN NIRONA - CRAFTS OF KUTCH
Reaching the lacquered woodworking village, I felt like I entered a place frozen in time, a century ago... They decorate wooden crockery with multicoloured lac patterns using a small hand-operated lathe. Watch the video below for its products & technique.
 
Nirona Village in Kutch, Gujarat

vintage sample of Nirona Rogan art, Kutch

vintage sample of Nirona Rogan art, Kutch
 
ROGAN ART IN NIRONA - CRAFTS OF KUTCH
It was evening by the time I reached Nirona. This was the art in Kutch that was the most unusual for me! I met Padmashri Shri.Abdul Gafur Khatri here, the master Rogan painting expert. I also managed to see a 3 generation old, traditional Rogan art fabric here!!! Of course, I bought the authentic Rogan art Tree of Life here. 

Why is Nirona Rogan Art unique? What is the speciality of Nirona Rogan Art? Unlike other textile crafts which mostly use plant dyes, this art primarily uses mineral dyes mixed with castor oil that makes a very oil-paint like consistency (obviously, right?)! So this is painted on the fabric with a small stick, making super-fine lines by guiding the fabric with another finger under the fabric. It reminded me a bit of Mehendi application. The pattern here is also symmetrical. 

Nirona Rogan Art process: The first step is to create the pigments. It takes about a day in summers & 2 days in winters to make the pigment by mixing castor oil with mineral colours. Unlike other textile crafts, in the case of Rogan Art the design isn't traced at all. The design is directly made with the colour pigment. The pigment stands on the fabric like a Mehendi. After completing one half of the design, the fabric is folded & pressed. This enables the pigment to be transferred to the other half of the fabrics as well as push the pigments into the fibres of the fabric thereby flattening them. This step makes the wash fastness of the pigment excellent and the design doesn't wash off no matter how roughly you wash it as long as the life of the fabric itself! The next step is the add more colours to fill the design. Unlike the previous step, here the colours have to be added on either side separately.

Who makes Nirona Rogan Art? The Nirona Rogan Art is traditionally made only by the men of the Khatri community, but currently thanks to the efforts of Shri.Abdul Gafur Khatri, who has trained quite a few women, now women are also doing the Nirona Rogan Art. 

VIDEO OF PROCESS OF ALL THESE CRAFTS
 
The day was a whirlwind, to say the least. Here's a video of all these crafts being performed, the products being made. My mind was exploding with information and the beauty of the various arts and the love & simplicity of those people and how truly  Incredible India is!!!

HOW TO REACH BHUJ
Ahmedabad to Bhuj: 300km.

FLIGHTS & TRAINS TO BHUJ
Bhuj airport is very small and is served only by Alliance Air (Air India subsidiary) from Mumbai. Kutch also has the Kandla airport (closer to Gandhidham) that's connected to Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Nashik. The nearest large, international airport is Ahmedabad and several trains are available from there. Trains from Ahmedabad to Bhuj, takes about 6-7hrs journey time and there's an overnight train available from Ahmedabad to Bhuj and to return as well.

BHUJ TO NIRONA & OTHER KUTCH VILLAGES
Kutch Tourism is actively promoting this region for the crafts of Kutch esp., during the Rann Utsav on the Rann of Kutch. However, it is not possible to stop at each of these villages depending on public transport. There are some organizations that conduct coach tours, but the best option is to hire a car from Bhuj Railway station/airport for a full day and explore as much as possible.

Kutch Handicrafts process photos pinterest Kutch Handicrafts process photos pinterest

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. Being an ex - Art History Teacher, my area of interest especially lies in Nature and Heritage. Visited 78 UNESCO World Heritage sites as of Sept 2020. I've been listed among the Top 7 Women Travel Bloggers of India, Top 50 in UK. I have been interviewed in a couple of TV Shows, Radio Channels and Events as well. Read more about me and read the testimonials of different brands

17 comments:

  1. We don’t shop much for souvenirs. But we still love to visit local craft shops. Especially fun when you find craft traditional handed down from generation to generation like you did in Kutch. I loved the colours used in the craft pieces.

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  2. Wow! These are beautiful. Love the details and intricate design. I had no idea how this is made but this is very interesting. Would love to visit and see this personally should I get a chance.

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  3. Oh my god! Those fabrics from the beginning are so stunning! I can't imagine the talent, dedication and time needed to do that. I will I can go there some time to see it in person.

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  4. I have always owned pieces with Bandhani work, they are just so pretty! Although it's been a while now that I added new pieces, so maybe this is the trip post COVID! I love the idea of buying these from the artisans in their own villages rather than just picking them up from the stores. Thanks for including ways of getting there, thats super helpful!
    Ps. I hope you picked up that blue piece, it's so pretty!

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  5. This sounds like such a great experience. Exploring the local areas and local markets are a great way to find unique items. It was so nice of Shri Ismail Khatri to invite you into his home and provide you with the home made breakfast. It must have been the perfect way to start your day of exploring. The fabrics are beautiful!

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  6. Good to know about these wonderful art works.

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  7. I love buying the local art from a place. I had been to Kutch for the festival many years ago and I did buy some of the clothes and handicrafts from the shops in the festival. However, I would have loved to have visited these local art making places where it is authentic and I could have bought the souvenirs from the local artists rather than shops. I will ensure I write this down for my next visit.

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  8. I love handicrafts and especially on textiles. I have worn many outfits with Azrak work as it is really very unique art from Kutch. Also Rogan work looks interesting and very beautiful. Not only this, but wooden lacquered work on the doors too look very unique and it shows how much talented people of Bhuj are.

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  9. India has such diverse and beautiful art and crafts. Each part of India is unique in its own way. I am quite fond of handlooms and textiles and usually try to visit the local weavers and artisans in the places I travel. I have a Azrak dupatta and am absolutely fond of that. I wanted to visit Kutch area for long to explore the handloom and handicrafts in the region. With this article, I came to know about a few more handicrafts of Kutch region. Thanks for sharing them.

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  10. wow this is incredible! Those different fabrics are all so beautiful! I love learning about traditional crafts and see how these items are made. It is so interesting to learn about the history, art and skill that goes into making these beautiful things. The inventiveness that goes into the process and how this knowledge is passed down through generations. It sounds like a wonderful place to visit.

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  11. Omg I would be crazy to shop for many Indian made fabrics as many as possible. As a crafter, this is my joy and I will happy to wear these fabric. Learning from the fabric makers will be a huge plus!

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  12. Very nice looking fabrics, and this is coming from someone who doesn't admire fabric or art patterns much. It's interesting to see the creation of the Ajrakh fabrics - from what looked like soup being made in a cauldron to spreading that paint over the fabric. I did not think that sun drying was the normal procedure, but I guess it's expected in lower tech areas. That woodworking village looked unique as well, they look like they're made of rock? In any case, the people around here look like they have a very unique life and work style.

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  13. I really love how you explore the local businesses and indigenous arts. I have never been to Kutch myself and didn't even know they're famous for block painting. It looks incredible though!In fact, I must make it to Gujarat sometime, its one of the very few states in India that I haven't yet explored.

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  14. Have been to Ahmedabad but not to Kutch. The region really has a vibrant craft culture. Some of the pieces seem absolutely exquisite!

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  15. The region of Kutch is indeed so rich in art and culture. I believe it is one of the lesser explored places in terms of art and even history. Love the fabrics from this region and we are actually planning to explore entire Gujarat once the pandemic is over.

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  16. I am amazed at the Kutch art and craft, especially the block printing. Glad that these still exist amid modern handicraft. If I ever visit Gujarat, I will pick these up as souvenirs.

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