Standing tall with his twirled moustache, a turban on his head, sporting baggy white trousers and a woolen shawl that protects him from the biting cold, Rana Bhai has travelled from the village of Ukheda in Gujarat to Delhi with a singular aim — to tell people about the Rabari community of nomadic pastoralists. At the Bikaner House, he is offering visitors lessons in spinning yarn out of a soft ball of sheep wool using a simple stone and a tiny wooden stick. Onlookers struggle to learn the skill, but Rana Bhai does not mind repeating the lesson. Comparing the country’s native sheep wool to synthetic wool from the mills, the 55-year-old says, “Synthetic wool isn’t as strong.”
He has been invited to the Capital for the exhibition “Desi Oon”, organised by Khamir, a platform formed after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake to preserve the crafts and heritage of Kutch. The exhibition delves into sheep pastoralism and the processes of producing indigenous wool. It acquaints visitors with the techniques of spinning, dyeing and weaving indigenous wool by bringing in weavers, spinners, dyers, designers and members from the herding community in Kutch to an urban setting. Having arrived with his range of shawls, stoles and bed covers made from native wool, Vankar Shamji, one of the leading weavers of Kutch, believes it is important to hold such events to acquaint people with native sheep wool and the processes of generating it. He says, “The use of local sheep wool has dwindled and people have begun throwing it. It is compulsory to cut the hair of sheep every six months to save it from insects. If such events are held and people get to know the value of local sheep wool and the immense warmth it offers, only then this wool can be saved from being thrown away.” Rana Bhai’s biggest complaint is that giving land away to industries has resulted in no space for cattle to graze.
A weaver from Kandherai village, Babubhai Ladhubhai Padhiyar is displaying his signature Dhabda (traditional thick blankets), made from sheep wool. These are carried by herding men to cover themselves. Each takes at least 15 days to make and weighs four kg. Padhiyar tells us that these are also used by ethnic groups such as the Rabaris and Ahirs during marriages. “Before plastic became a norm, people also used these to cover themselves during rains, as water wouldn’t seep through this blanket,” he adds. Padhiyar is one of the few remaining weavers of Dhabda. He says, “Now there is little demand and there are very few Dhabda- weaving looms. My village only has two, compared to 22 looms that existed earlier.” In Delhi, one of his Dhabdas, costing Rs 25,000, found a buyer as soon as the show opened.
Vankar Murji Hamir is displaying an array of shawls, stoles and saris made from desi wool and natural dyes that chronicle the century-old relationship between the weavers and Maldhari, a tribe of herdsmen who utilise their textile products. He uses traditional motifs based on the surroundings of the Maldharis — trees, goats, sheep and village huts. Conscious about global warming, he says, “We continue to use natural dyes in place of chemical ones to help save the planet.”
A 1970 Tangaliya textile — usually worn by women of the Bharwad shepherd community as a wraparound skirt — is also on display. With motifs of birds, trees and animals, Bharwad women usually wear it on the day of their marriage and thereafter. There’s also a woolen veil called Ludi, that covers the head of Rabari women and weavers.
Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav, the designer duo behind Amrich, are exhibiting modern and contemporary pieces of clothing, including overcoats and jackets made from wool and kala cotton that is indigenous to India. With workshops on Desi Retiya (charkha), Takli (spindle) and Kutchi embroidery organised at the venue for better insights, Ghatit Laheru, director of Khamir, says, “We have tried to showcase the qualities of native wool. It is odour-resistant, biodegradable, stain- resistant and can even be used as a fertiliser.”
The exhibition is on till January 13
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