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Explore the famous handicrafts of Gujarat

Explore the famous handicrafts of Gujarat


estled in the western region of India, Gujarat is popularly known as the ‘land of legends.’ Beauty resides in every corner of this state enriched by its diverse ethnicity, rich traditions and customs. The Gujarati community takes great pride in its identity that is intricately tied to its profound love and passion for artistic expression as exemplified by the famous handicrafts of Gujarat.

As of August 2023, Gujarat had a registry of more than 137,000 artisans, positioning it as the 7th highest artisan population state in India. From handwoven silk, cotton/woolen textiles, and intricate embroideries to mesmerizing block prints, dyed fabrics, and exquisite metalwork, Gujarati handicrafts are emblematic of the state’s enchanting splendor!

This blog by Qalara delves into some of the highly-regarded Gujarati handicraft techniques that transcend local borders and international waters, garnering admiration from art lovers around the world.

With a history of over 4000 years old, Ajrakh is one of the oldest types of resist-block printing. The word ‘Ajrakh’ means ‘indigo’ in Arabic & Persian, and is also known to have come from the Sanskrit word ‘A-jharat,’ which means ‘that which does not fade.’ Although this printing technique originated in Sindh, it truly flourished after it was migrated to a nearby village in Kutch by the ‘Khatri’ artisans.

Some historians believe that the art of Ajrakh block printing might have origins from 1500-2000 BC as a King-Priest statue from Mohenjo-Daro showcased a draped shawl with a trefoil pattern and red-filled circles. This enduring symbol of the trefoil, persists even in contemporary Ajrakh, maintaining the centuries-old tradition of block printing and dyeing techniques.
King-Priest statue from Mohenjo-Daro showcasing a draped shawl bearing Ajrakh block printing
King-Priest statue from Mohenjo-Daro showcasing a draped shawl bearing Ajrakh block printing

In earlier times, Ajrakh prints were majorly seen on stoles, blankets, or bed sheets. However, in contemporary times, along with Ajrakh sarees and Ajrakh bags, the print graces home decor items, accessories and more!

Ajrakh block printed kaleidoscopic winter coat
Ajrakh block printed kaleidoscopic winter coat
Hand stitched ajrakh semicircle purse
Hand stitched ajrakh semicircle purse
Hand block printed cotton ajrakh top
Hand block printed cotton ajrakh top

The Ajrakh print showcases a sophisticated interplay of intricate geometric designs and detailed floral patterns. This refined artwork is a result of a meticulously orchestrated 16-step process, a laborious journey that unfolds over the course of 3 weeks!

  • The process starts with removing the starch content from the cotton fabric by soaking it in a mixture of camel dung, soda ash, and castor oil
  • It is then wrung out, and kept overnight, and in the morning, it is semi-dried in the sun, and then again soaked in the solution. This process is repeated for 6-8 times until the fabric is starch-free. This step increases the durability and softness of the fabric
  • Lastly, the fabric is washed in a solution of hard nut powder and water, and sun-dried
  • The blocks are usually carved by skilled craftsmen who specialize in wood carving, however, some artisans prefer to carve the block themselves using hand-held tools
  • For dyes, artisans use natural dyes, sourced from plant sources. Some artisans even make dyes from iron rust! They soak scrap-iron, jaggery and tamarind in water for 2 weeks and then cook it on flame, which then creates black dye. Traditionally, the Ajrakh print features four colors; red (alizarin), blue (indigo), black (iron rust), and white (resist paste)
  • In the first round of mordant printing, a resist paste consisting of gum and clay is prepared using natural ingredients
  • The paste is then applied to the fabric using carved wooden blocks. The resist paste on the fabric acts as a barrier, preventing the absorption of subsequent dyes in the areas covered by the paste
  • After the application, the fabric is left to dry, setting the resist design in place
  • The fabric is then prepared once again to be dyed in the second color of choice. The resist paste used in this step matches the background color of the fabric from the previous dyeing step, so as to maintain a consistent background
  • It is a deliberate choice to control the absorption of dye in the following steps, preventing any unintended alteration of the intricate patterns established in the earlier stages of the process. This helps preserve the original color in specific areas and ensures that the final design remains cohesive and visually harmonious
  • This whole step (printing, dyeing, washing, and drying) is repeated till the fabric is dyed with all the desired colors
Mordant printing
Image via: ShifaArtsAjrakhpur
  • The fabric is finally washed once again in clean water to ensure any remaining resist paste and excess dye is removed
  • The resultant textile is then wrung out and left under the sun to dry

The complete Ajrakh print process is notably water-intensive, as every step requires washing the fabric multiple times. Therefore, artisans implement a circular approach, where they keep using water until it is saturated with dye, and then release it to nourish arid fields. What’s also special about Ajrakh printing is that the entire process uses natural and environment-friendly materials. The culmination of all these factors make Ajrakh block printing a symbol of sustainable fashion!

The art of bell making is locally known as ‘Ghantadi’, and was brought to the Kutch region by the Lahor community of the Sindh tribes. Back in the old days, these bells served the primary purpose of distinguishing and tracking cattle. However, in the contemporary era, these same bells have transitioned into multifaceted roles, predominantly functioning as melodious wind chimes, musical instruments, and cherished keepsakes.

Hand beaten metal hanging decor with bells
Hand beaten metal hanging decor with bells
Hand beaten metal hanging decor with bells
Hand beaten metal hanging decor with bells
Hand beaten metal hanging decor with bells
Hand beaten metal hanging decor with bells

These bells are renowned for their exceptional craftsmanship, characterized by a distinctive no-welding technique, and showcasing a Gujarati handicrafts heritage that spans over a millennium! As of now, this unique craft is exclusively practiced in only three villages: Nirona, Kunaria, and Zura. The rarity of this craft makes it truly exceptional and one-of-a-kind!

The Gujarati handicraft of bell-making came to exist out of necessity among pastoral communities, as a means for them to monitor and manage their livestock. Each type of animal was assigned a distinct chime, enabling herders to discern the proximity of specific creatures merely by the unique sound resonating from the bells.

Let us dive deeper into this no-welding metal craft.

A metal sheet that shall form the bell’s body
Image credit: Qalara's partner producers
  • A metal sheet is first marked and cut as per the desired size
  • It is then hammered and folded in a cylindrical shape
  • Another smaller sheet is chosen to make the bell cap, which is also hammered to form a bowl shape, and then inserted inside the cylindrical bell body
  • From the same metal sheet, a string loop is cut and rolled, and then skillfully inserted into a hole in the bell cap
  • The loop ends are then twisted together while the wooden gong is also fitted inside
Women artisans dipping the assembled bell into a mixture of mud and water
The bell being put inside a furnace for baking
Image credit: Qalara's partner producers
  • This step is usually performed by women. They make a mixture of mud and water and dip the assembled bell into this water
  • The bell is then coated with another mixture of copper and zinc powder
  • Lastly, the bell is cocooned in a combination of raw cotton and clay, and then put inside a furnace for baking
A wooden gong
A wooden gong is finally affixed to the loop inside the bell
Image credit: Qalara's partner producers
  • After a few minutes, the bell is then taken out by the craftsmen and after cooling, the hardened layer of clay is removed using a hammer
  • The bell is then further hammered using a specialized tool called ‘ekal’ (harmonic hammer) to refine the bell’s pitch. Concluding this step, a wooden gong is then affixed to the loop inside the bell, which was created in the first step

In addition to being an ancient and unique art form, this craft is as sustainable as it can get! Craftsmen create these bells using recycled or discarded metals, and the sole source of fuel is derived from the kiln.

One of the most ancient forms of textile dyeing, the Bandhani print technique dates back to Indus Valley Civilization, around 4000 BC. It involves creating patterns by twisting, tying, and dyeing the fabric. The term ‘Bandhani’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘bandh‘, meaning ‘to tie.’ Bandhani tie-dye, initiated by the Khatri community in Kutch, has grown to be a prevalent art form in several regions of India, particularly Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Bandhani print garments are recognized for their auspicious nature, particularly red Bandhani sarees, which are regarded as a symbol of good luck for brides.

The hallmark of Bandhani fabric is the motifs created by hand-tied knots. Each individual knot contributes to forming a single motif, and a Bandhani fabric typically encompasses numerous such motifs, ranging from hundreds to even thousands, depending on the complexity of the design of the fabric. Moreover, artisans use natural dyes, where every color holds cultural significance. With a delicate balance of color, form, and tradition, the Bandhej fabric design process is a labor of love, resulting in timeless pieces that celebrate the rich heritage of Kutchis.

Despite its surface simplicity, this craft entails a high level of skill, effort, and a substantial time commitment.

  • The process starts with selecting a fabric. Cotton and silk are the most common Bandhani fabrics, however in today’s age more fabrics like crepe, chiffon, and georgette are also used
  • The fabric is first thoroughly washed and then sun-dried
  • It is then laid flat on the table and folded into half
  • Then it is stitched and hemmed from its sides
The design outline is formed by using wooden blocks that are dipped into a natural clay pigment blended with water
Image credit: Temporary design outline / via VagueSpaceFilms (Youtube)
  • Artisans draw the required design on a butter paper using a needle
  • When the design is ready, the butter paper is used as a stencil and carefully placed onto the fabric, ensuring it stays secured in its place and does not shift during the marking process
  • The design outline, composed of a sequence of dots (or however the required pattern), is formed by using wooden blocks that are dipped into a natural clay pigment blended with water, and rubbed onto the butter paper
  • The fabric is bound in regions where dyeing is not intended, and subsequently, the cloth is sent for the knotting process
The knots which make the classic Bandhani design
Image credit: Qalara's partner producers
  • This distinctive step of Bandhani involves tying small portions of the fabric and is usually carried by women artisans. Each skilled woman artisan can make up to 700 knots in one day!
  • These tight, small knots are created using a cotton or silk thread
  • When tightly knotted, these threads create barriers that prevent the dye from reaching that small area, resulting in the characteristic pattern of the Bandhani print
  • While the women artisans make knots on the fabric, the male artisans prepare the dyes
  • Despite the availability of easily accessible synthetic dyes, artisans prefer to use natural colors to keep the authenticity of their craft
  • The knotted fabric is then dyed and left under natural sunlight to dry
  • Depending on the complexity of the design and the desired color scheme, the Bandhej fabric can be tied and dyed multiple times!
Dyed fabric
Image: Dyed fabric / via VagueSpaceFilms (Youtube)
Untied Bandhani fabric
Image: Untied Bandhani fabric / via VagueSpaceFilms (Youtube)
  • After the fabric has dried, artisans delicately untie each knot by hand. This meticulous process is crucial, as pulling the fabric forcefully to break the ties at once may result in tearing. Therefore, artisans use their fingernails to gently undo each knot, ultimately revealing the exquisite pattern on the fabric
  • The fabric is finally washed to remove excess dye, and then dried in sunlight
  • It is also ironed for a more polished look, and then the Bandhani fabric is ready to be used to create a variety of clothing items, such as sarees, dupattas, stoles, dresses or more!
Handwoven cotton green bandhej kurta
Handwoven cotton green bandhej kurta
Handwoven cotton blue bandhej kurta
Handwoven cotton blue bandhej kurta

Despite the easy-availability of Bandhani prints and more cost-efficient mechanized processes, artisans stick to the heart of true craftsmanship to create such exquisite offerings.

Check out Qalara’s Bandhani listings here.

Aside from being a dazzling folk-art, Lippan art, also known as clay-relief work, stands as a symbol of empowerment and creativity across the monotonous white sands of the Rann of Kutch.

Despite the elusive origins, the Kumbhar community is acknowledged as the pioneers of this artistic form. Mostly, women have been the front-runners of this craft. For generations, they adorned the walls of their simple huts (locally called bhungas) with beautiful patterns using mud and dung. Beyond being an artistic expression, the Lippan art on wall also served a practical purpose of moderating indoor temperatures, providing coolness during summer and warmth in winter.

Lippan art on hut wall
Image via: Threads WeRIndia

Lippan art designs usually consist of geometric or nature-related motifs. Moreover, the mirror embellishments are believed to fend off evil spirits and bring positivity inside homes. As time passed, the local communities started to create more elaborate designs on MDF boards or canvases, using a mixture of clay and chalk powder, instead of traditional mud and camel dung.

Lippan art is so sturdy that the huts adorned with this mud-work withstood the 2001 catastrophic earthquake that shook the state of Gujarat, contributing to the resurgence of this craft.

Despite the perceived simplicity of the steps involved in this art form, making a single piece demands steady hands, focus, and hours of dedicated effort.

  • The process begins with preparing the base. A thin layer of mud is applied to an MDF base (in earlier times, the walls were moistened), creating a canvas for the artwork. The mud acts as a binding agent, and also makes the surface durable
  • After the base dries, artisans sketch the desired design, which includes animal and bird-motifs like peacocks, elephants, flowers, or geometric patterns
Kneading dough of dung and mud
Kneading dough of dung and mud
Making border on moistened base
Making border on moistened base
  • A dough is prepared, usually a mixture of mud and millet in equal proportions
  • The dough is kneaded, and then rolled into cylindrical strips or desired shape to make patterns
  • Before applying the dough, the hardened base is moistened once again so the dough sticks to the base
  • Artisans start by forming a border, followed by crafting the intended shapes and meticulously positioning them onto the outlined sketch. Artisans are so incredibly well-versed with this craft that they even make the designs free-hand!
Placing mirrors on the design
Placing mirrors on the design; Images via: DeKalpa India (Youtube)
  • Mirrors are an integral part of Lippan art. These mirrors are strategically placed within the design, reflecting light and creating a sparkling effect
  • In addition to mirrors, other decorative elements like colored beads or shells, may also be added to enhance the beauty of the artwork
  • After 4-5 days, the artwork dries and is coated with a layer of white clay
  • Some artisans add final touches by painting the surface with natural colors of earthy tones, such as red, white, and ochre
  • The completed artwork is then left to dry, ensuring the mud hardens and all embellishments are firmly in place
  • To protect the artwork and enhance its longevity, the surface may further be sealed with a thin layer of clear varnish or another protective coating
Clay & mirror-work square wall decor
Clay & mirror-work square wall decor
Clay & mirror-work striped wall decor
Clay & mirror-work striped wall decor
Clay & mirror-work wall decor
Clay & mirror-work wall decor

Lippan art has witnessed a seamless transition from having humble beginnings to being a renowned art form that is admired by people from all over the globe. In 2005, this art form truly gained recognition from a wide audience, thanks to the annual festival of Rann Utsav, that celebrates the culture and heritage of Rann of Kutch and hosts a wide range of cultural events, including folk music, dance, and art.

Gujarat’s artisanal treasures, from the intricate needlework of Kutch to the vibrant Bandhani fabrics, are applauded for their beauty and painstaking precision. These famous handicrafts of Gujarat serve as profound means to self-expression for the people of this state.

Qalara commends its partner producers and artisans for extending the legacy of traditional Gujarat handicrafts in the contemporary world. These artisanal pockets are certainly helping etch a lasting legacy in the world’s regard for art and heritage. We call you to view the stunning creations from this remarkable Indian state here and leave a comment below about which region’s craft forms would you have us cover next!


Check out related blog: Touring India: Crafts from Kashmir

~ Written by Yashvi