The heat, thorny shrubs, and the salty marshland make Kutch in Gujarat one of the most arid landscapes in India. But did you know it is also one of the liveliest Thanks to the vibrant and colourful embroidery and textile traditions of the communities who call this arid region home. Distinctive embroidery styles give this barren land colour and identity. The combination of stitches, patterns and colours are inspired by the cultural roots of each tribe.
Some 45 tribes reside in Kutch, and each of them have their own style of dress and embroidery. Their craft is more than just decoration for household goods it is an important means of personal, social and spiritual expression. The women embroider using specific stitches and motifs as a form of individual and community identity. The various embroidery styles (the region is said to be home to more than 17 distinct types of embroideries) are unique to each community. The styles include the dense and bold work of the Ahir community the Jat-Garaasiya and Jat-Fakiraani style of the Jats the Sodha- Pakko of the Sodhas the Soof and Khaarek of the Meghwad-Maarus and the Rabaari of the Rabaaris.
Travel around villages and you will find women engaged in embroidery and weaving, making clothes for themselves and their families, or creating pieces for a bridal trousseau or for a temple festival. At a distance of 8km from Bhuj lies the Bhujodi village. Considered to be the textile hub of Kutch, this village is inhabited by around 1,000 people, a community of weavers, tie-dye artists and block printers.
If you want to check embroidery styles under one roof, visit the museum set up by Shrujan, a not-for-profit organisation working with craftswomen in Kutch to revitalise the ancient craft of hand embroidery. Located in Ajrakhpur village, 15km from Bhuj, the museum displays a series of exhibits along with embroidered panels that are close-ups of the style, designs, and motifs of each community in the region. Research and design students from colleges and schools, or anyone keen on embroidery, can sign up for a workshop here.
&ldquoEmbroidery is like an identity&ndashpeople know when they see a particular kind of embroidery that this person comes from that tribe,&rdquo says Ami Shroff, director of Shrujan. &ldquoBut this has been changing gradually. One, many people wear synthetics now. Second, the tribes have begun borrowing from each other so the distinct styles are getting mixed.&rdquo
The best time to visit the region is between November and March. Or drop in during the Rann Utsav when you may join the colourful revelry don your adventurer&rsquos hat and go on a trip to explore the villages in the area.