Seams of tradition
Chennai is playing host to embroidery craftspersons from across the country. Their exquisite work is on display at the "Crafts India 2001" exhibition, organised by the Crafts Council of India.
CHENNAI IS playing host to embroidery craftswomen from across India. They have brought their exquisite embroidered wares to `Crafts India. 2001', presented by the Crafts Council of India. Traditionally-accoutred Banjara embroiderer Lakshmi, resplendent in her cowrie-embellished, embroidered headgear-cum-dupatta and swirling lehngaa rubs shoulders with beautiful 60-year-old Rabari embroiderer Lachchubai from Dwaraka, clad in modish backless choli and an abhala-encrusted odhni. From Barmer comes craftsperson Punhoomull, with his absolutely stunning patchwork bedspreads and "Tree of Life' wall hangings. Toda embroiderer Mutchsin and Nagamalli, wrapped in their vibrant `puthkulis' are a study in contrast to Kasuti expert National Award Winner, Anita Chowdapurkar from Bangalore, yet they both carry forward the great embroidery skills of India. Craftsperson Mohapatra from Bhubaneshwar and Tapoti Bhowmick Majumdar bring the great embroidery traditions of Orissa and West Bengal's Kantha to Chennai. And from Kanyakumari and Kerala come entrepreneur- cum-embroiderer Augustinal, lacemaker and embroiderer Rita amma and Vijaya Nirmala who carry the exquisitely honed craft of European convent embroidery into the future.
The variegated embroidery makes for a dazzling, multi-hued and eclectic collage of saris, cholis and dupattas, dresses and yardage, wall hangings, torans, table and bed linen, handbags and accessories. Sitting amidst the hurly burly of `Crafts India 2001', intensely occupied with plying their needles and embroidering beautiful images, the craftswomen raise their voices of commitment and hope.
The craftspersons talk about their work...
What makes you pursue embroidery with such dedication? Is it because it is a hereditary calling, a desire to make money or a personal passion or is it all of these?
Lachchubai : I breathe, don't I? It's like that! I have to embroider! I learnt this `varshavali' or hereditary craft from my mother. And we Rabaris work on embroidery all this time, everyday for births, marriages and festivals. It is our `dhan sampatti'. We sing, tell stories and embroider all at the same time.
What songs do you sing?
Lachchubai: About God and his Leela, what else!
Anita Chowdapurkar: I was interested in embroidery, I learnt Kasuti from my sister and improved upon it on my own I've studied 50-100-year-old Kasuti saris, and yes, it is my passion!
Rita Amma: I learnt lace-making from my mother...
In traditional embroidery forms there are defined motifs and formats. With the trend towards `functional contemporising' do you change traditional motifs as well?
Mutchsin: We do not change the Toda motifs, stitches and basic colours red, black and white. Each of the motifs has a special meaning like peacocks, snakes, feathers or even mythological stories. But we do incorporate new designs as long as the format is geometric.
Pethabhai: We now do Rabari embroidery on bags, wall hangings, dupattas, cholis etc. each of our tribes has special motifs and we stick to them. But we do not do `heavy work' any more. Earlier we used to do heavy embroidery on `lehngaas', which cost Rs. 10,000. They don't sell any more.
Anita Chowdapurkar: I innovate and elaborate on the motifs but never change the basic design. Nowadays I see people printing and tracing Kasuti design. Kasuti should be done by counting threads. I have trained at least a 1000 women in this craft.
Punhoomull: I use my skills but change it to suit any design or motif which the client wants...
Has anyone else received or given embroidery training to others?
Augustinal: I run my own embroidery unit and have been embroidering for the past 40 years. The nuns taught me and I have trained at least 10,000 girls! About 9,000 girls work for me. I give them threads and designs. I don't make much profit since most of the girls are very poor and there is happiness in helping them.
Lachchubai : I have trained many young girls in Ahmedabad.
How do you market and sell your embroidery?
Mahapatra: I get help from the Orissa Handicrafts Corporation, which places orders. I also get help from the Development Commissioner, Handicrafts to go to exhibitions and sales. I also have a shop.
Punhoomull: My craft is greatly in fashion now. People come to my family unit: exporters, individuals and others.
Tapoti Majumdar: I do my own marketing.
Will your children carry on the embroidery parampara?
Pannumal: Of course! My son Khushaal is a B.Com but I have taught him the craft.
Mutchsin and Nagamalli: No matter how modern we become, Toda girls have to learn embroidery and make special "puthkulis" etc for weddings and funerals.
Lakshmi: Almost all the Banjara girls learn embroidery at home.
So your craft has a bright future?
Nagamalli: Toda embroidery will go on forever!
Lachuchubai: Rabari `kaam' will never die.
Punhoomull: Some years ago, our village of Dhanau had only 200 embroiderers. Now 5,000 to 6,000 people do this work.
Augustinal and Vijaya Nirmala: In our villages lots of poor girls come to us for training. We (SEDA and others) have trained thousands of girls who now do excellent embroidery. It is a way of life and livelihood in our districts...
Are you happy to exhibit in Chennai?
All: Very. People here are appreciative and ask a lot of questions... We are having good sales also.
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