There is a small rocky desert area in Gujarat known as Kutch. Subject to droughts, famines and poverty, it is bounded on the south and west by the ocean. Within Kutch are a variety of communities ranging from a city with modern life, Bhuj, to nomadic camps. Most people live a simple life in scattered villages. They produce wool and clarified butter from their animals, and in some areas raise crops of cotton, millet, and mustard among other things. Village life often consists of a center courtyard used as a daily gathering place, surrounded by small mud brick homes of two or three rooms. On the western border, both the Hindu and Muslim villagers value their textiles as family treasures. Embroidery is prized for its beauty and commercial value, but quilts symbolize a family’s social position and wealth.
The largest pastoral group in Gujarat is the Hindu herding caste, the Rabari.They are easily recognized by their distinctive dress. The men wear a traditional white jacket with full gathers and a wrapped lower garment that goes through the legs. The women wear a black wool shawl that has been woven in two pieces and joined by decorative embroidery stitches and gold and silver jewelry. The Rabari are known for their love of decoration, especially in their embroidery. Their items for daily use, such as quilts and animal coverings are distinctive in the bold, colorful designs.
Large numbers of Rabari are found in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat as well. Although the current generation is leaning away from traditional handicrafts as education becomes more available to younger women, nevertheless, women are still proud of the stacks of quilts formally displayed in their homes. Appliqued Saurashtrian quilts often feature highly curvilinear motifs like the tree of life symbol and peacocks, both of which are seen in these two quilts from Saurashtra. Whether constructed on a grid, free form, or in concentric rectangles, the layouts invariably include some type of border to contain its elements.
Click images below to view larger and read more information about some of the quilts included in the exhibit.