2014 started for me in incredible India, one of the most intoxicating countries I have ever visited. The first time my paths lead me to Gujarat, an easy side-step off the well-beaten tourist trail between Rajasthan and Mumbai. While the capital Ahmedabad retains some charm amid its chaos, the countryside holds most of the state’s treasures. Traditional artisans in tribal villages weave, embroider, dye and print some of India’s finest textiles. Pristine parks harbour unique wildlife, including migratory birds, wild asses and the last remaining prides of Asian lions. For the spiritually inclined, sacred Jain and Hindu pilgrimage sites sit atop mountains that rise dramatically from vast flatlands. Gujarat also claims a special relationship to the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi: he was born here, he ignited the nonviolent protest movement from here and he made his Salt March here.
We spent some days in the Kachchh (or Kutch) area, India’s and Gujarat’s wild west, a geographic phenomenon. The flat, tortoise-shaped land, edged by the Gulf of Kutch and Great and Little Ranns, is a seasonal island. During the dry seasons, the Ranns are vast expanses of hard, dried mud. Come the monsoon, they are flooded first by seawater, then by fresh river water. The salt in the soil makes the low-lying marsh area almost completely barren. The villages dotted across Kutch’s arid landscape are home to a jigsaw of tribal groups and sub-castes who produce India’s most known handicrafts, above all their textiles which glitter with exquisite embroidery and mirrorwork.
This was my eldorado and the place where I sourced the most beautiful fabrics and accessories for www.silviagattin.com such as the tie-dye scarves Sebastian (see India’s treasures Vol. 2) and the RABARI shawl (or throw), a hand woven, hand tie-dyed, after a century old tradition hand embroidered scarf named after the biggest community in the Kutch area. The result is a master piece of human handcraft and intricate work.
The great Rabari community is spread over the western plains of India from Kutch to Rajasthan. They are Hindu cattle-breeders and shepherds, falling into three endogamous groups – those of Kutch, Rajasthan and central Gujarat. There a many further sub-divisions according to the region. Family activities, such as embroidery, keeps Kutch traditions alive. The work is extremely intricate with an incredible variety of motifs and stitches and it is easy to identify by the pattern worn by a woman which community or group, or even village, she belongs to. The finest embroidery is done by women of the nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes, worked at when the menfolk are away tending animals, and is often a reflection of their lifestyle of shifting horizons, camels, peacocks, parrots, flowers, trees and women churning milk. Each patterns tells a story and the cut of the women’s dresses, the color, motif and style of embroidery on the garments are all related to the age of the wearer, group affiliation and marital status.
With the Rabari shawl you bring some color and breathtaking mirror work and embroidery, short you bring India, to your living room or your wardrobe.
Ideas for uses: cover your shoulders and use it as a cape (as Kutch’s women are doing it), spread it on the back of a sofa, use it as a decorative bed throw or hang above the bed as a headboard wall hanging for a dramatic effect. This gorgeous throw with lots of details is an easy way to add color, depth and interest to any large monochromatic wall.
Silvia in the Great Rann of Kutch.