The costumes of people in rural areas of Kutch, Gujarat are known for their vibrant colours, intricate embroidery, and unique designs. They reflect one-of-its-kind richness in culture and traditional craftsmanship of the region. Both men and women wear locally hand-dyed (Bandhani) and hand block printed (Ajrakh) cotton and silk fabrics that incorporate elaborate hand embroidery as well as embellishments like mirror work, beads, and thread designs.
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Bandhani has a variety of patterns, and styles in this region. It’s the most widespread form of everyday print seen here. Ajrakh is a personal favourite that is inspired by skies, changing seasons, geometrical patterns and symmetry found in nature.
Features Of Women’s Costumes
While it varies from community to community, the most common attire among women in villages here, is bright coloured Chaniya Choli. Chaniya is a flared, ankle-length skirt that’s vibrant and colourful. Choli is a short blouse, often with mirror work. Odhani is a long piece of fabric, worn as a headscarf or shawl along with the Chaniya Choli. All three of these have heavy embroidery.
To accessorise, women have elaborate Kutchi Jewellery which includes necklaces, bangles, and earrings that have mirrors as well as beads. They also wear nose rings and maang teeka (forehead ornament). With their old clothes, they make bags and mattresses. The bags are given to the daughter(s) when they are married, to take along with them to her in-laws’ house. The footwear is called Mojri, a form of embroidered leather slippers.
Features Of Men’s Costumes
This consists of Dhoti, a traditional lower garment worn as a wrapped skirt, often in white or neutral tones. The top part of the costume is called Kediyu, a long pleated shirt with embroidery. This is accompanied with a turban known as Pagh, usually white in colour. I often see fellow passengers or farmers wearing this. There are other kind of turbans called ‘Safa‘ or ‘Pheta‘. Safa is more decorative, worn during special occasions and ceremonies.
Accessories include Kada, a metal bangle worn in hand. Some of my school friends from Gujarat, in Kerala, also used to wear this. The footwear is similar to that of women, embroidered leather shoes.
The Binding Brilliance Of Bandhani
The literal meaning of ‘Bandhani’ is to tie. All of us can quickly imagine something colourful and spectacularly beautiful when we hear this word. This traditional tie-dye process has been practiced for centuries in Kutch and other parts of Gujarat. Each piece is unique because they are made by hand, involving a meticulous process of tying small portions of fabric with thread before dipping it in the dye.
Natural colours are commonly used to create rich, distinct, and authentic hues. The tied areas resist the dye, creating geometric patterns. Some of the common knotting styles include ‘single dot,’ ‘double dot,’ and ‘triangular.’ It is more than an art form; it has a cultural, social, and economic significance.
Ajrakh Block Print
This is also a centuries-old practice. Ajrakhpur village is now one of the major centres for this block printing technique where the Khatri community practices this craft. The traditional colours are black, red, and blue. They are inspired by Islamic geometrical designs which in turn take their inspiration from nature. These are deeply rooted in tradition and often have symbolic meanings. The motifs include stars, flowers, and geometric patterns.
The name has different origin stories. Some people say that ‘Ajrakh’ has drawn its name from the Sanskrit word Ajharat, meaning one that does not fade while the Arabic word, ‘Azrak‘, stands for blue.
This is distinct from other forms of block printing due to its specific techniques and designs that have evolved in
the region. The colours are sourced from plants, minerals, and other natural elements. Hand carved wooden blocks are made, and then dipped in natural dyes to then stamp onto fabrics in a precise and repetitive way. It employs resist printing techniques since the fabric is treated with a resistant substance like clay or gum in parts where dye is not required. This results in contrasting patterns.
Check this out: Ajrakh Block Printing [A Photo Story]
While block printing is practiced in various parts of India, Ajrakh is specific to Kutch region. The local artisans have preserved and passed down these practices through generations, making it a unique part of the culture. The patterns often tell stories, making it more than just decorative elements.
The continued relevance of traditional garments in Kutch lies in the ability to adapt to contemporary tastes while preserving the authenticity of traditional craftsmanship.