“What do you want to do when you grow up?” isn’t a common dilemma for the children of India’s craftspeople. Family businesses are big business and frequently carried out in the family home or compound housing extended family. Not only are prized skills passed down through generations, little ones start learning the techniques with their elders and while their fingers and faculties are at their most nimble. Often, crafts are a village-wide affair.
The Roopraj family compound – including solar heating.
Cotton dhurries of finest quality to suit all premises.
A surgical approach to packaging.
A perfect example of this is the Roopraj dynasty in the small village of Salawas, not far from Jodhpur in Rajasthan. The extended family makes vibrant, multi-hued dhurries, hardy floor coverings woven in exquisite designs in cotton or silk yarn, or goat or camel hair. The enterprise carries on a 100-year-old tradition taking the sought-after products into palaces, houses, apartments, and all manner of dwellings across India and the world. Mr Roopraj has many international visitors to his well-kept family enclosure including from the US, Canada, South America, Europe, the UK, Hong Kong and Australia. He is proud of his streamlined operation which allows for credit card payments, meticulous packing, and efficient transportation, with goods arriving on a purchaser’s doorstep almost precisely on a given date. My package of two dhurries was so carefully wrapped with finely stitched calico over securely taped inner wrapping that I regretted having to cut its precise sutures. Mr Roopraj would make a fine surgeon!
In the spick-and-span craft village of Bhujodi, just outside the bustling city of Bhuj in Gujarat’s Kutch region, the Vankar Visram Valji clan personifies the concept of “family business”. The partiarch was a veteran weaver who in his early days struggled to make a living from his skills. The turning point came when he won a national award in 1974. Now the weaving enterprise run by him and his six sons from their spotless, expansive family compound is the largest producer and supplier of woollen shawls and blankets in Bhujodi. Four sons are also national awardees and another has a UNESCO Seal of Excellence.
The family cows join the Valdi clan in their neat Bhujodi compound.
The open-air kitchen.
A beautifully carved wooden door leads to the compound work area.
Master craftsman Vankar Visram Valji and son: “this is where we store indigo”.
North-west of Bhuj the quiet town of Patan accommodates more treasures, including of the “living artisan” kind. Master double ikat weaver, in particular of treasured patola silk sarees, Bharat K. Salvi and his family can trace their dynasty and their craft back to the 11th century. Mr Salvi combines an ikat museum, housing beautiful and rare pieces from their precious collection, with his artelier. It’s his mission to preserve and document their cherished craft.
Although a trained architect Rahul Salvi couldn’t resist the family double ikat tradition.
Double ikat involves each warp, or longitudinal thread, and the weft thread crossing the warp, being tied separately. The technique produces a patola with no reverse side: both the sides have equal intensities of colour and design. The painstaking process of tying, untying, retying and dyeing in different colours can take four or more weavers up to 75 days to complete. Vibrant reds, yellows, greens and blues dominate. Basic designs include floral motifs, animals, birds and human figures, but geometrical patterns are becoming sought after. The striking colours, organically sourced, come from turmeric, marigold flowers, onion skin, pomegranate bark, madder root, lac and indigo.
Only four centres in the world make double ikat textiles – Bali (Indonesia), Okinawa island in Japan, and, in India, Pochampalli in Telangana State, and Patan. Single ikat is woven in Okinawa, Cambodia, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, the Philippines and Holland. The Patan centre flourished after the local ruling dynasty in the 12th century brought in Jain craftspeople, Mr Salvi’s forebears, from Jalna in Maharashtra State.
Patan patola sarees are highly prized. Royals and aristocrats wear them on auspicious occasions and in south-east Asia they are regarded as a holy cloth. The Indian bride whose wedding trousseau includes such a saree is regarded as a very lucky girl. Not surprisingly a genuine double ikat patola doesn’t come cheaply: it may cost upwards of around $AU3000, yet order books are full.
Exquisite textiles in the making.