Gujerat is a state which is known for its various crafts, textiles and embroideries. The rural women in Gujerat are excellent women expressing themselves with needle and thread right from the time they toddle. As soon as they can hold a needle, they sit by their mother or grandmother and start stitching with coloured thread on square pieces of cloth. As they grew older they progressed with different kinds of stitches, and learnt to sew, and embroidering on ghaghras, pillow cases, bags, shawls, cholis and anything that required embellishments. Much of the embroidery has mirrors worked into it. This is what we call oral tradition, that is, a craft skill which is passed on from mother to daughter over many generations.
Everyday, after tending to their cattle and field work, plus house work, the women set aside an hour or two to their embroidery. All the embroidered goods that she does, is given to the girl as trousseau during her wedding. Being handcrafted, every piece is a valuable possession.
As with every craft, royal patronage helped the craft to blossom. The Mughals were chief patrons, and during their rule, the quality of craft and textiles rose to a peak. Emperor Aurangazeb particularly commissioned embroidered textiles for wall hangings, for his palace, for his nobility, and for the animals. Even tents and palanquins were richly embroidered and used during travelling and camping. Marco Polo who travelled to India during the 13th century marvelled at these beautiful embroideries inlaid with gold and silver threads, proclaiming them to be the most beautiful in the world. Ahmedabad became one of the largest centres, for the embroideries of Gujerat and even today you can see the rural folk exhibiting their work on the streets.
After the Mughals, the East India Company owned by the British carried on a flourishing trade with Gujerat embroidered fabrics.
Every village in Gujerat has its own style of embroidery, and it is easy to find out which village the embroidery is done judging by the stitches. Bhuj is a place where exquisite embroidery is done, and fine embroidery is done in Banni north of Bhuj near the Pakistan border. The needle craft is done on woollen shawls, and is one of the most popular items as the work is one of great beauty and skill.
The wealth of a particular tribe is judged by the number of items embroidered and the quality of the work. Quilts are part of every family, and however poor they be, living in huts, the quilts are their proud possessions which indicate their social status.
Beadwork is also a form of embroidery for wall hangings, and worked around solid utilitarian objects in the home. They could be two dimensional and was developed in the late 19th century.
Embroidery is done on shoes and handbags and find appreciation in the worldwide market. The cultural heritage of Gujerat lies in its textiles and handicrafts, and next time you see an exhibition of Gujerat craft advertised in the newspapers, be sure to attend!