When we dropped by Bhujodi in Kutch, Gujarat, India

Unique Ilkal innovations in saris, dupattas, shawls and stoles, hand woven by Bhujodi weavers showcased in Mumbai which we visited in last December…later an account of our visit to Bhujodi.

Bhujodi to Bagalkot team-0170 copy

The first night the weavers of Bagalkot left their village, a panicked call came to Nilanjan in Kutch. There was trouble with their train tickets and they couldn’t speak Hindi to the ticket taker. They were suddenly facing a huge unknown world outside. Seven months later, these brave young weavers presented their collections of innovations on their beloved Ilkal saris to the world of Mumbai.

T white stole 2 - low res

Initiated by Somaiya Kala Vidya, an institute of education for artisans based in Kutch, founded by Somaiya Trust, the project demonstrates the effective and efficient power of design in sustaining traditions. The innovation is the artisan-to-artisan approach. Carrying artisan design into the next phase, Designer Weavers of Kutch were the designers and mentors for less exposed weavers from the Bagalkot District of Karnataka.

Hand weavers of Bagalkot are imperiled. Their well-loved Ilkal saris today face severe competition from power loom versions. Handloom wages are meager. Many weavers have left their profession to work in granite quarries. Meanwhile, jacquard looms were introduced to make copies of Varanasi saris, a solution that is costly in terms of equipment and skill development, and devastating for the cultural heritage of Ilkal sari weaving.

Hand weavers of Bhujodi, Kutch, have a fifty-year history of innovating within their traditions for new markets. Since 2006, twenty-three weavers have graduated from a year-long design program pioneered by Kala RakshaVidhyalaya. These weavers have become remarkably successful in reaching high-end markets in India and abroad, and adept at articulating and presenting their work.

Somaiya Kala Vidya paired these artisans for a quick, live demonstration of sustainability through design. There were challenges. The looms were no longer geared to cotton, the weavers had used synthetic yarn so long they did not understand cotton properties, and sources for appropriate materials and colours had to be found.

Seeking solutions in Karnatak villages, the weaving partners bonded. “We explored,” Chamanbhai related. “I saw Jayantibhai doing research, asking questions about tradition, probing. We didn’t know we had so many different skills!” Elder Bagalkot weavers were so happy that cotton had returned that they invited the Bhujodi team to dinner.

Driven by the desire to rejuvenate a wonderful tradition, this exhibition confirms that artisan-to-artisan, traditions will not just survive, but flourish.

While writing their proud achievement, I fondly remembered our trip to Bhujodi Village in Kutch last December. We were on our last leg of trip to Rann of Kutch and other surrounding areas, (we were driving down from Mandvi to Bhuj), and this is when our driver who had sensed our love for Kutch-Gujarat handicrafts suggested Bhujodi. Tired and exhausted, we were reluctant to take another break but he almost insisted. Voila! What an experience! My daughter Tanya who is fond collector of handicraft articles from all over the place, felt she was in the haven of handicrafts. Bhujodi Village is a Handicraft Park established by Gujarat Government for promoting and showcasing the cause of weavers and artisans of Kutch.

This is a small town just 8 km southeast of Bhuj, Bhujodi is a major textile center of Kutch, with the vast majority of the 1200 inhabitants involved in textile handicraft production. Here we could meet weavers, tie-dye artists and block printers, most of whom belong to the Vankar community. Many of them let us watch them work; just ask around. The visit to this handicraft park was an amazing place to visit where we could see traditional handicrafts in their original forms, where weavers were weaving sarees, shawls, dupattas, kurtas…what not, not only this it very well livens upto its name. It is modelled like Mini Gujarat with wall adorning mirrors work, mud work, greenery, pond with swans and some interesting eating joints. We could pick up some fascinating stuff from there besides enjoying ourselves amidst craftsmen and weavers.

Hope you enjoyed photographs of our memorable trip to Bhujodi, Kutch.

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