Monthly Archives: March 2013

skylinepngI recently met a tourist from the Philippines who came to visit Kutch and discover the incredible landscapes and people. She was having a wonderful experience. However when it came to her visit to Bhuj city, her first reaction was : “Yes Harmirsar lake is nice, but Bhuj is so dirty!”
I did not know what to say…

Kutch is an eventful region, for the best or for the worst, and its capital, Bhuj knows it better than any other city here.

Heavily destroyed in 2001, its citizens stood up and succeeded in rebuilding the foundation of what has become a fast growing city. It is now facing the same challenges as many others of its kind in India:

How can the city grow in an harmonious manner, including all the layers of the population?
How does one answer the basic needs of the citizens in areas of energy, water, infrastructure, waste management?
How should we approach the ancestral culture, knowledge and tradition as a strong basis for innovation and development?
How do we encourage economic growth without jeopardizing the environment and the existing rich fabric of livelihood activities?

These thoughts and more led to the birth of Bhuj Bole Chhe, which literally means Bhuj Is Speaking (in Gujarathi). The Bhuj Bole Chhe team believe it is the responsibility of each and everyone of us – citizens of Bhuj, to work together and doing that can be fun too!

That is why they are starting a website, a common platform for everyone in Bhuj to share their stories, ideas, concerns, information and also take action for their city.
It can be fun and their are so many ways in which one can participate : starting with sharing old photos of the city, sharing the tales and legends from our grandparents, sharing some creative ideas we have for the city, organizing a “street cleaning” event with friends in the community… the only limit is your imagination!

This initiative was started by 5 organizations which have been working in Bhuj for a few decades already : Arid Communities and Technologies (ACT), Hunnarshala foundation, Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS), Sahjeevan, Urban Setu (Kutch Nav Nirmav Abhiyan).

The Bhuj Bole Chhe adventure will officially begin on the 7th of April in the evening, at the heart of the city : the Hamirsar lake. I invite you to join and start sharing your ideas! Until then, I will let you have a sneak peak of the logo that I worked on for this exciting step that the city is taking!

Visit the website here :

North-India introduced me to a full-scale Holi celebration this year.
Did you know that when we affectionately apply colour on each-other, we are re-enacting a scene between Krishna, Radha and the gopikas?

Radha-KrishnaYoung Krishna was known to be notorious. Legend has it that he was very jealous of Radha’s light complexion since he himself was very dark. When he complained to his mother Yashoda about this injustice of nature, she asked him to go and colour Radha’s face in whichever colour he wanted. In a mischievous mood, Krishna listened to the advice and applied color on Radha’s face. And she ended up looking just like him! The other gopikas joined in the fun by using colour water jets called pichkaris and everyone had a good time! So much so that it evolved into a tradition.

This legend was wonderfully brought alive in Kachchh last morning.
“Why are they picking on me so much shru?”- asked my husband yesterday, catching his breath inbetween all the colour and mud attacks.

“To make you look like one of us, my dear!”

After photography was introduced into India in the 1840s it rapidly grew in popularity, particularly as a means to record the vast diversity of people and their dress, manners, trades, customs and religions.
This is a continuation of a series called The Wonderful Artisan, a set of photographs contributed by Shivashankar Narayen in 1870 to the book – “People of India”.
You can see Part 1 here.

09 Women preparing cowdung cakes for fuel, Ahmadabad
Cow dung is collected and made into flat round ‘patties’ which are dried on walls and roofs and then sold as fuel and used extensively on cooking fires and for heating. It has many other uses, including fertiliser and as a flooring material when mixed with mud and water.

09 Women preparing cowdung cakes for fuel, Ahmadabad
10 Gold and silver wire and thread drawers at work

10 gold and silver wire and thread drawers at work - 1873
11 A goldsmith’s shop, Bombay
This is one of a series of photographs commissioned by the Government of India in the 19th century, in order to gather information about the different racial groups on the sub-continent. Photograph of a group of goldsmiths (Sonars) seated round a low work table at Bombay in Maharashtra. John Forbes Watson writes: “The Sonar or gold and silversmith is an indispensable member of the Indian social condition of life; and he is to be found in every village, almost in every hamlet, as well as in all towns and cities.

11 A goldsmith's shop, Bombay
12 Cloth stamper, Western India
Photograph of a cloth stamper seated at a low table on the verandah of a house in Western India. The craft of block printing cotton fabrics is particularly associated with Gujarat. The motifs include flowers, animals, people and abstract designs. The wooden blocks, carved with the design to be printed, have a handle on the back. They are made from woods that are light in weight, gurjun (Dipterocarpus Turbinatus-Gaert) or seasoned teak (Tectona Grandis-Linn); the former wears better when used as a block. Fabrics are still printed this way in India to this day.

12 Cloth stamper, Western India

13 Preparing sheepskins for tanning, Ahmadabad
A description in John Forbes Watson states, “The process of tanning consists in soaking the skins in lime water for some days to loosen the hair and surface of the skin; the hide is then scraped, and after washing is sewn up in the form of a sack, which is filled with babool bark (Acacia arabica); it is then exposed to a constant stream of water, which forces the astringent matter into the pores of the hide very rapidly; but to make the process still more rapid the hide is taken out, wrung, and refilled every four or five days. While still damp the skins are spread on the ground and rubbed on both sides with a wooden block or mallet furnished with a handle.”

13 sheep skin

14 Lacquer worker, Western India
The object to be lacquered is turned from hard wood, usually shisham [Dalbergia]or box. After being smoothed and cleaned it is again fixed in the turners’ frame (a kind of lathe worked by hand), and made to rotate. The sticks of lacquer colour (“batti”) consisting of a mixture of lac, resin, colouring matter, and, it is said, a certain proportion of sulphur and bees’-wax, are then applied to the rotating object; the heat produced by friction is sufficient to soften the lacquer composition, which attaches itself to the wood, producing however, a dull and streaky appearance. When sufficient colour has been applied, the surface of the article is skilfully rubbed with a piece of bamboo having a fine edge, by which the colour is evenly distributed, and a polish produced, which is finally completed with oiled rags.

15 Lacquer

15 Work-box makers, Bombay
The three box makers are shown with examples of their trade, including carved and inlaid boxes and an album cover. A certificate of honorable mention awarded to Framjee Heerjeebhoy at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 is placed in the centre of the photograph. This photograph was probably shown at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873 where Framjee Heerjeebhoy sent many examples of his work. The work exhibited included ivory inlaid inkstands, portfolios, cribbage boards, pocket books and watch cases. He also sent carved sandalwood and ebony work as well as album covers and glove boxes adorned with Delhi pictures, pocket books, paper cutters and watch stands.

16 workbox makers

And finally an interesting photograph, taken around the same period by Photographer Michie and Company, showing carpet weavers from Karachi jail in Sindh.

17 Carpet Weavers in Karachi Jail in Sindh - 1873

Old photographs are my favorite.
While researching for an exhibition, I recently stumbled upon a whole lot of photographs taken by the photographer Shivashankar Narayan, c. 1870, from the Archaeological Survey of India. He submitted these images to the book “People of India” published by the ASI in eight volumes from 1868 to1875.
They are available today at the British Library.
What a wealth of history!

I am sharing a few of them here, each one beautifully traces back the history of handwork and craft practices from western India.
They are worth our attention.
We have as much to learn from them today as we did before.

01 Worker preparing thread for sari weaving
This image showing a worker crouching beside a spinning wheel [charkha] and paying off thread to a reel at the right, is probably one of the series of views of cotton manufacture shown by Narayan at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873.

01 Worker preparing thread for sari weaving

02 Sari weaving, Western India
This image shows the process of the manufacture of cotton fabrics shown at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873. The weaver sits on the verandah of a house with his legs in a type of hole which contains the lower portion of the machinery which he works with a pedal at his feet. The combs are supported by ropes attached to beams in the roof. In his right hand the weaver holds the shuttle, which contains the thread which passes through the spaces created by the combs, forming the pattern. The principal comb is held in the left hand.

02 Sari weaving, Western India

This type of handloom weaving is still practised here in Kachchh, view an article from the village of Bhujodi here.

03 Gold embroiderers
This image of embroiderers seated at sewing frames was probably an exhibition photograph. These craftsmen are working with thread which has been mixed with gold wire made from gold leaf and then melted onto silver bars and forced through small holes in a steel plate to form very fine gauge wires. The thread is used to embroider a wide range of garments; shawls, scarves, sari and turban borders, shoes, purses, tablecloths and many other items. It was held that metal threads from India were less likely to tarnish than similar products from other sources.

03 Gold embroiderers

04 Gold and silver tape beater at work
The worker here is beating gold and silver wires (tinsel) into flattened tape on a low anvil with a small hammer. The work is carried out extremely quickly and without missing any sections of the wire drawn off the holding reel. The tapes are used as decoration on a wide range of garments and may be sewn onto or threaded through woven fabrics. It was held that metal threads from India were less likely to tarnish than similar products from other sources.

04 Gold and silver tape beater at work

05 Silk design knotters
These silk workers are tying pieces of silk fabric into multiple pleats and knots before dyeing to produce intricate patterns. This process, which is known as ‘tie and dye’, may be repeated numerous times to produce multicoloured lines, spots and rings on the fabric. In India this traditional technique is known as Bandhani, from the Sanskrit word bandhana, which means ‘tying’, and is the origin of the word bandannah.

05 Silk Design Knotters at Work on a Verandah - 1873

06 Dyers at work, Western India

06 dyers at work in Western India - 1873

07 Bhattia turban folders at work
This image is of a group of workers folding turbans on wooden model heads.

07 Bhattia turban folders at work

08  Bombay potters at work
This image, of two potters at work at their wheels, surrounded by their finished work was probably an exhibition print. The kumhar (potter) makes unglazed terracotta or earthenware pots for the storage of grain, spices or pickles, and for transporting and storing water. The potter also makes bricks and tiles for housing. Vessels for eating and drinking are usually made of metal or glass. However, small disposable drinking vessels, that are used once and then thrown away, are made of terracotta.

08 Two Potters at Work at their Wheels, Surrounded by their Finished Work - Bombay (Mumbai) 1873

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