South Asian Seams: Thar


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West Bengal









Thar Desert

The great Thar Desert is the seventh-largest desert in the world. It extends from southern Punjab and northwest Rajasthan down through Sindh and Kutch in Gujarat on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. The people of Thar distinguish themselves by their languages, mixture of religions (mainly Muslim and Hindu), occupations, and cultures. A saying from the Thar area is that “the earth grows a different type of human being every hundred miles.” Throughout history, the part of the Thar in southeastern Pakistan has been particularly isolated. It is separated from other areas by the great salt flats of the Rann of Kutch. Only unpaved roads connect many of the small communities. Enormous sand dunes cover the landscape dotted with desert foliage, given color only with the monsoon rains. Drought is one of the factors of life in the Thar. Wells, usually two to three hundred feet deep, hold life-giving water. Rounded beehive-shaped huts made from local small woods dot the landscape.

Life has changed little over time, with most people relying on animals and their products, food, and leather and wool, to live. Women take care of the children, cook food, help build the home, wash clothes, bring water from the well, collect dung and wood for fuel, help cultivate the land, and sew for their families. Much time and effort is spent in making beautiful clothes and preparing for the wedding dowry. The regions of the Thar Desert are the world’s richest source of folk embroidery, known for its intricate embroidery, bold textile designs, often inspired by flowers, dunes, and peacocks. There are also textile decorations for home and animals, and a variety of bags and other objects, all enhanced with shells, shiny sequins, buttons, and mirrors. The quilts, or rallis, from the Thar area are known for their bold designs and creative use of color.

Among the well-known groups of the Thar are the nomadic Saami who spend the year travelling through the Thar on their migrations between Iran and India. The Saami are famous for their quilts that are closely and intricately stitched over a background of solid fabric.

South Asian Seams: Audio Tour Track: Thar (MP3 File)

Click images below to view larger and read more information about some of the quilts included in the exhibit.

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