Kutch on a spa wall..

All this while, I’ve refrained from writing about Gujarat. I’ve read (and of course I see them everyday) so much about Kutchi embroidery, mirror work and the beautiful ladies wearing traditional wear that it seemed nothing out of the ordinary for me. Till the point that my husband pointed out that I haven’t blogged about my first project. Its been a year now since its been completed, it is in perfect condition and writing about it seemed the right way to celebrate the anniversary. (Please note that all photos were taken using a mobile camera, regret the quality)

Yes, that was my first craft interiors project. It is a spa and I was offered a project to do something ‘Indian’ for one of the rooms. Since it was my first project, I decided to do something from Gujarat.

Of course, I did the usual stuff- I traveled with an approximate address to find the craftsman. I knew it was somewhere ‘near Bhuj’. I reached there to find a group of migrant workers who belonged to a border village near the Rann of Kutch. The extended family lived in a small house and visited their village once or twice a year to celebrate weddings and other festivals.

The brightly dressed women are the most creative bunch of people I’ve ever met. They have no formal education, in fact they cannot even draw a design on a piece of paper. They sketch (only for my reference, they don’t seem to need any at all. It’s all in their head.) the design with their fingers on the soft earth. These fingers that have created some exquisite embroidery have more in store.

The embroidered clothes that the women wear come as part of the dowry. To make this dowry, a girl starts when is just about 5 years old. The best embroidered clothes fetch the best husbands. So the girl learns and perfects the intricate embroidery techniques very early in life. The girl’s mother makes the bridal bag- an even more intricate piece of fabric that is used to pack her daughter’s clothes. The photo is of Kanta and Isha, Ramilaben’s daughter and sister respectively.

Ugabhai and Ramilaben are fabulous as a couple. While she works at the creative aspects of the wall, it is her husband who gets the raw material ready.First of all, wild ass dung has to be collected from the forest. Kutch is the only habitat for these creatures. Next the local earth (which is rock dry) is beaten up to a powder, mixed with the dung and made into a paste.

The walls are plastered with this. This is called ‘Lippan Kaam’. This is commonplace in most houses in that region and acts as an insulator bringing down temperatures drastically inside their homes. The women are the ones who are involved in making the creative designs.

The design is made on the plastered walls. It starts at a midpoint and slowly grows around that reference point. The designs are usualy not made on paper and is the whole process is improvised as the women work together, singing Kutchi songs and teasing one another. The picture above shows how the finished design looks before completing the final painting process.

The walls are then plastered with white cement. This process is done by hand and the final finish is done with fingers creating waves. Finally, each mirror is carefully cleaned by hand. The final wall looks like the one in the picture.

If you thought the whole process was interesting and adventurous, it is definitely far from it. On day one, Ramilaben wanted to go back home. Her lehenga was so huge that she couldn’t manage washing it in the tiny bathroom at the spa premises. The commode was another story altogether.  Another issue was that these people do this on their own walls at home, so it can be done at their convenience. With a launch deadline, it was difficult to get them to finish.

But when the wall was finally done, it surpassed all our expectations. The final texture that was done using Ramilaben’s fingers is a remarkable example of hand crafted beauty. I travel to this spa quite often. I run my fingers on that wall, and there is definitely a sense of pride.

Puppets and puppeteers

I got a leather puppet custom-made to fit my balcony window. It is a 6 ft tall structure of Radha in all her splendour. There was a Krishna too in beautiful blue, but I needed just one and I chose Radha over Krishna. I haven’t installed the structure yet. Once it is in its place, I will definitely put up a picture.

Once of my friends Nisha Subramaniam (I call her ‘Nishakka‘) had been here earlier. I’d asked her to get me a puppet. Once I saw my ‘Radha‘, I had to see the whole thing myself. So my recent trip to B’lore took me to Nimmalakunta, a 3 hour drive from Bangalore. Here I met Tulsi Rao (the one on the left) who was happily dozing under the cool shade of a banyan tree. I had spoken to him countless times over the telephone. Though we speak no common language, we have mastered the art of communication in such circumstances.

Almost everyone in the village is involved in either making puppets or hosting shows. Here is Tulsi Rao’s sister, who plays the female lead in the puppet shows.

Made with goat leather that is soaked in water and dried, the translucent sheets of leather are used as canvases for these puppets. The basic deign is sketched on the sheet, cut out to form a puppet and then coloured.

Holes are punched into these puppets with simple tools. These holes let light pass through when held against it. This contrast is used for the puppet show.

Nowadays, owing to the lack of interest in puppet shows, business has taken a downturn. So colourful lamps are made to cater to the current market trends.

Tulsi Rao was all enthusiastic as he took out his harmonium and played ‘Bahut Pyaar Karte Hain Tumko Sanam‘. He also showed us a minute long puppet show. But what took my breath away was this Vishnu’s Dasavatar (10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu) piece that he had made.

Ramayana is a very common theme for their puppet show. Here is Hanuman and Sita.

And here is the deer that lured Sita away! 🙂

So many beautiful pictures, an amazing bunch of people. Here is my favorite picture.

And if your glass door is asking for something like this, any design, any size can be custom made. How about a back-lit panel of Lord Krishna for the Pooja room door? 🙂

Please click here for more pictures.

Terracotta on my wall..

It’s been three months since I’d picked up a few terracotta plaques from Molela, Udaipur. I knew the wall where I wanted it, but I was contemplating a design. Initially the plan was to intersperse this with a few black and white pictures taken during my travel. Then it was a mix of paintings and finally I decided to give it a go. Without the paintings, of course and I am very happy with the result.

The wall where I wanted to do this installation. The plain white walls weren’t just right. I wanted something that was warm, Indian and would contrast the red terracotta brilliantly.

However much I was impatient to have my yellow walls, I had to wait for the process. And it takes time!

Yellow is definitely a difficult color. Too bright is tacky and too light is dull. I bought the brightest yellow possible and manually mixed white colour and applied patches till I was sure (almost!).

All that effort was definitely worth it. The wall turned out beautifully.

Since they were going to be riveted directly to the wall, I had to get the placement right. I tried a lot of combinations and decided to take my friend Shivani’s advice. She said the more intricate ones neeed to go at the end. That would be visually more appealing.

Terracotta is tricky. One crack and the whole thing falls apart. I hadn’t really planned it in my head when I bought it. So I had exactly 9 pieces! So it was such a relief once all of them had holes drilled in. One of the plaques chipped a bit, but I cleared this round without much incident.

I’d rather be safe than sorry. So I decided to use two screws diagonally on each plaque to fix it to the wall. One piece of advice for hanging art- ideally the mid point should be 57-60 inches from the floor. Mine is about 64 inches, but then there is a lesson to be learnt in almost everything in life! 🙂

The beauty of handicrafts is in the imperfections. The similarly (almost) sized tiles look fabulous when put together. I used some red color and cement mixture to camouflage the rivets.

I cannot even explain how happy I feel, everytime I pass by. The colour is perfect, the setting is right and brings a lot of character to my home.

If you like this and want something like this for your home, just message me!

Raghurajpur Part 2: Folklore and colours..

I have known ‘Dilip Kumar Prusty’ for a year now, but had never met him in person. Going by his highly talented work and the average age of skilled artisans in our country, I expected him to be at least 60 years old. When I finally met him during this trip, I was surprised to meet a chirpy 30 yr old, with a lot of interesting ideas and dreams for the future.

As someone who has explained the process to complete strangers a million times, he clearly detailed out the process for us. Pattachitra is drawn on a special paper. The paper is made with multiple layers of old fabric treated with a concoction that consists of tamarind seed paste, a completely eco-friendly concept. A final coat of a limestone mixture is spread on the paper, which is then polished to provide a smooth canvas.

(Photo courtesy: P Sindhuja) On this paper, the basic sketches are drawn. The colours that are used are also derived from natural sources like Conch shell (white), soot from lamps (black), Geru (red), etc. The colours are stored in empty coconut shells.

The brushes are made with animal hair based on the thickness required, with the finest one being made from squirrel hair!

Mythology is the central theme of most paintings. Most crafts in our country have evolved to support the various rituals performed in temples (or the other way round!). Patta paintings are used in the place of idols in the Puri temple during a specific period of the year. During this period the gods are supposed to be sick and are not fit to offer darshan to their devotees.

Pattachitra is just not limited to a single canvas. Walls painted with Krishna’s Raas-Leela, his life’s story and Vishnu’s ten avatars abound in Raghurajpur.

(Photo Courtesy: P Sindhuja) Traditionally done by men, women have also taken to this craft. Initially, they were involved only in the process of making colours. Nowadays they are formally trained in this art by their family members.

Though I would have loved to visit all the 120 families in the village, it is impossible to cover everything in a day. So I restricted my visit to two homes, Dilip and his neighbor Narayan (the one in blue shirt).

Feast your eyes on a few designs..

At the end of it, we insisted that Dilip sign our purchase. He had never done it before and took a lot time to write his name on the painting.

Please click here for more photos of Orissa Rath Yatra and Crafts.

Raghurajpur, Part 1: Life in black

‘Raghurajpur’ has been on my list of places to visit for a very long time. So when I finally set foot inside that village, I was over joyed. Located on the banks of a picturesque river, Raghurajpur is truly a treat for travelers like me. It is more like a settlement of craftsmen, all highly skilled and each of them create magic on their canvases.

(Photo Courtesy: P. Sindhuja) Here is my first glimpse of the village and I was already on an high!

There are many crafts to explore in that little hamlet. I decided to start with what I saw first, the tribal art. Made with just the basic black (originally soot collected from lamps were used), this art is a true example of how creative someone can get with whatever little they can get their hands on. Nowadays a small bit of colour is used to highlight and offset the black. The images have no facial features, yet they all have a story woven into them.

(Photo Courtesy: P. Sindhuja) Look at the details of a woman playing an instrument.

Kamarupa is one of the many talented artists in Raghurajpur. Barely in his 30s, he has practiced his art for as long as he can remember.

(Photo Courtesy: P. Sindhuja) Drawing inspiration from their environment, the simple motifs of everyday life are accentuated with a whole lot of detail.

The art is used on other medium as well. They are painted on cloth to be used as wall hangings.

I flipped when I saw a beautiful Tussar silk saree painted with this art. Sadly, I don’t have a photo to feature here.

So if you are already dreaming of that motif on your wall, make sure you leave me a message.

P.S: Please click here for more pictures of Orissa-Rath Yatra and crafts.

A small thanks to my friend Sindhu for those lovely photos! 🙂