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SHRUJAN: MOVEMENT TO REVITALIZE TRADITIONAL CRAFT

Sathya Saran  (click here to know more about this blogger)

Something that has always worried me has been the decimation of the rich craft heritage we have nurtured over centuries but have little time for today. Craftspeople, being mostly unlettered, have always been at the vagaries of middlemen and others more cash savvy than them, and get little in return for their skills. This is true of the embroiderer, the bidri craftsman hammering tiny lengths of silver wire into bell metal objects, the handloom weaver or the kalamkari artist. The result, in this fast growing materialistic India is, that the younger generation prefers to abandon the craft and become a babu or businessman instead. Two wheelers, a desk and desktop replace the tools of a hereditary trade in many homes and the craft slowly dies a quiet death.

So when I hear of any attempt to revive or revitalize one of our traditional crafts, it fills me with not just curiosity but immense joy. Talking to Ami Shroff of Shrujan was a heartening experience. Started by her mother, as a means of giving a proud people a means of eking a livelihood in the near-famine state Nature had keft Kutch in, today Shrujan has become a movement that includes teaching, research and revitalization of the colorful and fascinating Kutch embroidery. 1968 was the year when the women in the diverse communities in the Kutch area were shown a way to use their skill with cloth and needle to earn enough to make up for the loss of their farmlands to drought. They had never worn a sari so they had to be taught how it was draped so that they could embroider the relevant portions. The movement spread slowly, from one village of twenty women to others... from one community to ten. Each community had its own identity: there was no intermingling and no communication but together they held  a rich mine of styles, colors and patterns. And a legacy that was intrinsic to the craft heritage of the country. Each community was important. Shrujan painstakingly covered the region. Today the movement covers 22000 women from many communities!
 
When in 1995, changing lifestyles and synthetics caused a drastic disinterest among the younger generation, who neither wore traditional clothes nor found any personal interest in the embroidery, Srujan moved into its second project. Working with some of the older embroiderers, they created 1100 panels and 400 actual pieces to work as a showcase to educate the new generation on the heritage they were so casually unaware of. In the process this travelling museum which goes from village to village, showing and teaching women their own craft, has created a record that makes a reference guide for students of serious fashion. Older women were coaxed to teach their grandchildren and the craft was formed. But then the questions started. The younger women wanted to know why they embroidered parrots while the others created peacocks. Other questions rose on colors used. "We found we did not have the answers," Ami Shroff said.
 
To delve into the intricacies of a 2000-year-old heritage that had almost got lost in just twenty years, Shrujan (with the force of Rolex Award for Enterprise behind it) has sent out young women researchers. They live for months in a single community, integrate, understand and record. Then the record of the colors, forms, patterns and stitches for the community are reverifiedby the elders who have been practising the craft. "The effort is bearing results... though slowly" Ami said. "We found that there were many forgotten stitches. Some communities had a total of 15 but used only 5 or 6 today... others had more. All of the stitches and designs and motifs are now being re-learnt and documented and the great thing is the community is excited... all generations are participating".
 
It is a beginning. Shrujan is looking for young researchers who will love the excitement of being part of a revival movement and enjoy village life and learning to live with a community. It seems a small job to be doing in this have-it-all world, forgotten and insignificant, but in fact they will be taking a historical step to reviving at least one of India's vanishing crafts. If only there were more initiatives like Shrujan our future generations would not live in a plastic country where the color and design and craft we are renowned for is seen in fading videos and museums only!
 
Photo: ©Rolex Awards. Xavier Lecoultre.
 
Shroff's revival of Kutchi hand embroidery brings revenue to 22,000+ women
 
Festival finery worn by an embroiderer shimmers with mirror fragments.
 
Artisans from the Haliputra community embroidering quilts.
 
The beauty and quality of Kutchi embroidery reflect the remarkable craftsmanship of these women
 
Threads Of Life exhibit
 
Threads Of Life exhibit
 
03-NOVEMBER-2012
 
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3 Comments
 
03-NOVEMBER-2012 Meher Castelino
These are the true designers of the country with talent that needs to be promoted. Have always admired organisations like Shrujan and SEWA
 
 
03-NOVEMBER-2012 FARAH PALIA
GREAT WORK AS ALWAYS.. EF!
 
 
03-NOVEMBER-2012 Pooja Chandokh
A very noble endevor. Is this only in the Kutch region? How does one become a part of such a venture?
 
 
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