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Kuch Kachchh Art Hota Hai

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The first hint that you may have stepped into a living museum is when you drive past a camel caravan of nomads herding their flock of sheep from one pasture land to the next. Men with imposing handlebar moustaches, eye-catching turbans, earrings and a traditional short jacket lead their extended families of bejewelled women and children down the asphalt highway in a fashion show of sorts. Further down the road you will encounter more colours in the form of villages comprising clusters of painted bhungas or huts which stand out in sharp contrast to the monochrome brown landscape.

Indeed, the bleak desert of the region has played an important role influencing the art and crafts of Kachchh (also know as Kutch) in north Gujarat. Since the rainfall in this region is unpredictable at best the traditional occupation of the region was largely cattle and sheep rearing. While the men were out looking after their animals the women spent their free time after looking after the household chores in preparing the trousseau of for their daughters.

In fact, right from childhood little girls help making their own odhni, kanjiri, ghaghro batwas (pouches) and quilts that they will take with them when they move into their husband’s house. In the process the art form is handed down form generation to generation. Just by looking at the designs an expert can tell from which village it comes from.

And since the economy was largely based on a batter system the different villages started to specialize in different items that they would traded with other settlements around them. As in most rural societies, wealth was stored not in banks but in the form of gold and silver jewellery – thick chokers, anklets, necklaces, nose studs, earrings and other ornaments – which was worn by the women. Over the years the ladies started to fashion these adornments into works of art.

For years the arts and crafts of Kachchh were contained within what was largely a closed social system of the region. Then many years after independence the outside world started to discover and desire the many treasures hidden here. Craftsmen from the region were invited to display their work in handicraft fairs around the country.

The craftsmen were quick to learn and adapt their work to the demands of modern consumerism and started using new material like wool from Kashmir and create new products like sling bags, scarves, bed sheets, curtain drapes… With exposure, came appreciation and this was quickly followed up by a growing demand. Fashion designers of Indian and international fame started to incorporate Kachchh art into their creations. Interior designers used it to decorate homes. Jewellers use it as inspiration to create designs that were traditional yet modern.

Yet, one must visit Kachchh to find the genuine unadulterated art of the region. For despite its recent exposure and fame, Kachchh art and its artisans are still rooted in and true to their traditional roots.

Fact File
Bhuj, the capital, is easy to access by air, road and rail.

One can stay in the capital and explore Kachchh: the Banni grasslands; the famous Rann of Kachchh which is home to wild asses and nesting flamingos; India Bridge, the last civilian outpost beyond which stretched the saltpans of the Rann and Pakistan; Karo Doonger or Black Hill (with the Dattatreya temple dedicated to the trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma perched on top) from where we looked down on the Rann; as well as the number of quaint little village that stud the region.