There is so much talk everywhere around the world about women’s empowerment. What most folks don’t realise is that the women’s liberation movement which took two centuries in the West is swiftly underway in a mere two decades in India. This has, of course, left a generation of Indian men confounded and while most celebrate the positive change and are in favour of equality of the sexes, there remains much to be done to sensitise both men and women to the rapidly changing dynamics in the workplace.
Where we, at Sihasn, operate out of, in Bhiwandi, until recent months, there was no woman in sight. Warehouse managers, logistics operators, furniture makers, labourers, security guards were all men across the board – this had been the status quo for several decades.
As we, at Sihasn, moved in, we brought on board women workers. This has led to women security guards being hired. Women can be managers, designers, workers, and guards. It was not conceived of before, but we’ve proved it is possible. The change is gradual, but positive and beautiful.
Here are just a few of the incredible developments that have taken place since the entry of the Ladies of Sihasn:
1. Healthy Relationship Between the Sexes
Women’s empowerment and liberation is not beneficial only to women – it is of superlative importance for men as well. Giving men the opportunity to engage with women professionally and to regard them not merely as hapless, fragile persons with no agency, but as fully functional human beings who can live with independence and dignity, is advantageous for men as well. In the 21st century, every man, woman, and child wants to be assured that the women in their families, their female friends, and their female co-workers can lead safe, independent lives. Until Sihasn, tailoring and furniture upholstery were seen as entirely men’s jobs – but now we know that’s not true at all.
2. Livelihood Means and Daring to Dream
For some of our girls, Sihasn is their first employer. Which means, they have, in their 40s or 50s, received their first paycheque. Financial independence is not the only thing that a woman gains from a paycheque, but more importantly, she can dare to dream; she doesn’t have to be a housewife forever. One of our girls has realized that even though she doesn’t have a college degree, she can do a fashion designing course. She has registered herself for one now, and she is studying while working. A paycheque is more than cash in a bank account – it is pride, it is dignity, it is confidence, and it is the chance to entertain your dreams.
3. Creative Expression
Enough psychology studies now prove that the creative and performing arts are therapeutic and healing. When people engage in art and design, they have a chance to focus their attention and channel their energies into creating something that can prove cathartic. Creative expression also builds confidence. The girls of Sihasn have found a way to tap and unleash their creative energies – which they did not know they had until now – through their work at Sihasn. They are detail-oriented and love draping the weaves of India over furniture. In fact, our girls often bring their own sarees to work with which to practice! They have shown us that there is an artist and creator in each and every one of us.
Pop Culture is quite possibly the best medium for insights into just how important a nicely furnished apartment is for leading healthy personal and fulfilling social lives. They remind us about the realities of our own circumstances and living conditions that we seem to forget when examining day-to-day life through the lens of Insta accounts and Facebook profiles. Here are some of those telling truths:
1. Home is where you get laid
Amy and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory
Unless you are going to check into an AirBnb to ‘Get a Room, India!’ as GoIbibo’s (an online travel company) tagline decrees, you are going to be bringing your Tinder date back to your palace if thing’s go swell on date night. Your home is the sexy and romantic alternative to a staycation that is something like a motel out of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Ok – maybe not that grim a picture, but certainly your home is the one place you want to conclude a romantically successful evening if you have a date you want to impress.
2. You will spend most of your life at home… not traveling
Unless you have a job that pays you well enough and gives you ample leave days (not referring to the unemployed, yet wealthy) to make your Instagram profile look cooler and more happening than all the Jones’ you’re trying to keep up with, you will spend approximately 91.8% of your year at home (when not at the office) even though 99% of your Insta profile is from those 10 days in Ladakh… and this includes all the weekend getaways to the hill-stations and your Uncle’s farmhouse. Note: if your neighbour is Kramer, then your neighbour and best friends will find ways to set up camp at your place as well.
3. Everything you once did outside is now at home
Eric Foreman’s Basement in That 70s Show
With Netflix an arm’s-length reach to the remote control, your pizza from Swiggy in less than a jiffy, and Dunzo delivering beer to your doorstep, you and your flatmates are spending more time at home than anybody before the internet ever did. Today, your home is your movie theatre, your restaurant, and your video game arcade All-in-One so you may as well do it up to make it your favourite place – the coolest, most happening place – to be.
4. Hosting friends is making friends
Joey and Chandler’s vs Rachel and Monica’s: Friends
There is a reason why the classic crew of Friends prefer a huddle at Rachel and Monica’s to one at Joey and Chandler’s… possibly because the former is, at the very least… habitable. So, if you’re thinking that your man cave is all you need as a social animal of this world, consider yourself a Neanderthal on the verge of social extinction. There’s nothing like a well-furnished flat with a decently-stocked kitchen for making friends. People need interactions and experiences to make friends and these experiences and memories need places to be made. The question is: your palace or mine?
5. Nobody cares how big your palace is
Kings Landing vs Dorne: Game of Thrones
And they don’t care for your grandmother’s antique silver or your vintage dragon skull either. It’s all about how you furnish your home to be warm and inviting. Plenty of sunlight, ventilation, soft furnishings, cosy furniture are the key ingredients for a luxury pad – not extravagant showpieces. Ask any princess and she’ll tell you that if it’s all uncomfortable furniture and ornate décor, she wants out; otherwise she isn’t budging an inch from her new Dornish abode.
6. At the end of the day, your home is your last refuge
Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City
Yours and, if you have a significant other and/ or kids, theirs as well. If you’re going to be spending more than 90% of your time in a single place in any given year, you may as well make that place your place of zen – your own piece of heaven and happiness that you can retreat to after an enervating day at work, when weekend plans have been cancelled, and when you can’t afford a vacation to Europe because you didn’t get that raise this year. So you may as well do it up and deck it out to your own tastes; personalize it, allow your individuality to be reflected by your decorative flair, and let it be the place where you can express your creativity – it could be anything from pretty Christmas lights to a Sholay or Pulp Fiction poster – because, after all, creative expression is therapy. It’s that one corner of the world where you can finally just have some ‘Me’ time so make it worthwhile for yourself and don’t feel bad about spoiling yourself silly.
Once Flaunted Only by Mughal Royals – Now on Every Mithai Box and Bridal Lehenga in India
They say that Jodha Bai, Emperor Akbar’s wife, wore the most exquisite gota-embroidered gowns in his court. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a single sharara or gharara that is not patterned with Queen Jodha’s butas, kairis (mangoes), champaks (flowers), gamla (flower pot), and paisleys, peacocks, elephants, and sparrows – all flora and fauna motifs that have remained timeless applique traditions passed down several generations among craftsman families. The village of Nyla on the outskirts of the city of Jaipur, has a long history in the tradition of gota embroidery. Besides Nyla, other towns where gota work is popular include Kota, Bikaner, Ajmer, and Udaipur – all in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.
Not as Simple As it Looks
Just because you now see it on mithai (sugar-overloaded Indian candy!) boxes, doesn’t mean gota is all that easy to execute. It is actually quite time consuming, and depends on the complexity of the motifs and the quantity of applique work (a lot in the case of a bridal gown and not much in the case of a mithai dabba!). First, a fabric of your choice (today polyester-cotton blends are in vogue, but back in the day, the choice of material for this tradition was silk) is stretched across a wooden rectangular frame called a “khaat” next to which the craftsmen sit and trace the gota designs and motifs using basic tracing paper and chalk. The gota lace (ribbon-like and differing in width and thickness depending on the size and complexity of the pattern) is then dexterously cut and folded numerous times to make the precise shape of the tracing – this is a tough skill to master – and then stitched and hemmed, employing a chain-stitch called “dori-kaam,” across the fabric; this practice is called “takaayi.” Since gotakaam is technically a surface ornamentation having singular texture, gota is a form of applique that locals refer to “lappe-ka-kaam.”
Bling, Bling, Bling!
Gota was traditionally done as a “patti” or border of an outfit, but today it is trendy among bridalwear designers to pattern across entire outfits so that the bride has the semblance of a dazzling chandelier. Because it is applied so lavishly and abundantly by designers like Anita Dongre, gota, today, is not made using real silver and gold like in the days of Mughal Emperor Akbar, but by gilt and lurex and is churned out on powerlooms in Surat. Other metallic imitations include copper and polyester film. Beads and stones are sometimes used alongside gota to produce an enhanced “zari” or “zardosi.” When tassels are attached to gota work, this frill decoration is referred to “kinari.”
The Authentically, Unapologetically Indian B&B Experience
Just when you thought there was nothing beyond apparel, furnishings, pillow covers, and furniture slipcovers for Indian textiles, here’s another innovative concept – fabric wall-paneling! Less messy and time-consuming to execute than wall-paint, more dynamic than wallpaper, as easy to maintain as your carpets and curtains, fabric wall-paneling is the next step in breathing life back into Indian heritage textiles while keeping the design tone chic and modern.At India Design Week 2020, Sihasn presented yet another package you can avail of at highly competitive market rates: end-to-end Interior Design using ONLY products made in India and sourced from Indian handicraftspersons including:
1. Handmade, hand-painted sanitary ware
2. Low carbon footprint bed (Zero use of Foam and Dachron) filled only with coir and cotton quilting
3. Shaggy fabric chandelier
4. Whatever else you may desire that’s Desi and Trendy
This is What Happens When a Group of Tribal Girls Band Together
Twenty years ago, way back in 2001, a group of tribal women of the Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh formed a cooperative to weave and sell their shawls, which they’d until then, conventionally woven for personal use only. Today, this humble cooperative is a thriving retailer and exporter called Fab Himalaya, providing livelihoods to over 150 weaving families in the Kullu Valley, also known as the Valley of the Gods, aptly named so for its ethereal beauty and stunning vistas. The shawls or “pattus” as the Kullu tribals refer to them, are woven from Yak, Angora, and Sheep wool once the yarn is dyed in vibrant, eco-friendly vegetable colours. Today, Kullu shawls provide livelihoods to over 20,000 – approximately 60%! – of Kullu tribals.
The Wool Road: From Tashkent to Kulant Peeth
The Kullu Valley is considered the end of the human world (“Kulant Peeth”) and the beginning of the realm of the divine, supernatural world; and rightly so – its ineffable beauty and charm are nothing short of heavenly. Kullu tribals trace their ancestry to Central Asian shepherding nomads who, for thousands of years, wove singular geometric patterns in Red, Black, White, Yellow, and Green – motifs which are today unique to the shepherding tribal communities of Uzbekistan, Tibet, and Himachal Pradesh.
Fabric Wall-Paneling – Dynamic, Fun, Replaceable, Detachable – Alternative to Stuck-With-Wallpaper and Same-Old-Paint
The Poor Man’s Walking Stick No More
The poor man’s staff, the fisherman’s raft, the farmer’s thatched hut, the construction workers’ scaffolding – the stuff made of bamboo – this simple folks’ grass has been underrated and under-utilized in India until very recently. For the longest time bamboo was considered a “wood” and not a grass. The 1927 Forest Act categorized bamboo as a tree and made it difficult to cut, transport, export, and work with in any capacity… like most trees in India. After 90 years of research and lobbying by activists, the 2017 Forest Amendment Bill finally removed bamboo from the “tree category.” This one Amendment has unleashed a flurry of economic activity especially in the North East where rural workers in Tripura and Assam can finally cultivate and sell bamboo and use it for the economic resource that it is. From paper and furniture and stationary to building pre-fabricated housing and brewing beer, bamboo can replace wood, metal, and even plastic in many cases, as a material. Today, up to 35% of Northeastern tribal communities derive their household income from bamboo cultivation and sale.
Greener than Wood, Cleaner than Metal – Bamboo is the Future of Furniture
There are something like 1,575 species of bamboo in the world out of which 149 are found in India. Bamboo grows naturally all over India except in the state of Kashmir. Rattan cane grows naturally in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and along the Western Ghats. Sihasn’s ‘Mowgli,’ an adorable swing for children, has been crafted out of bamboo cane from the Indian state of Kerala, a state which itself has 28 different species of bamboo. Bamboo undergoes similar treatment to that of wood to protect against insect infestation, fungus, and degradation. It is cheaper than wood and metal and has a lower carbon footprint than any crafting material – wood, metal, or plastic – as it can be easily re-cultivated unlike trees which take a longer time to grow, it is biodegradable unlike plastic, and it doesn’t undergo carbon dioxide emitting processing unlike metal.
The Commercial Sense of Bamboo – Better than Cannabis, Hemp, and Cannabidiol…?
There are no restrictions on the export of bamboo. Presently handicraft items – many of them made by tribals – mats, baskets, and toys are the hot-selling export products, but cane swings, papasans, and outdoor rattan furniture are causing a stir in the export market where they are now considered bespoke, high-end products. The design history of bamboo is similar to the azulejo tiles of Portugal, which were originally the poor man’s craft but grew to be the favourite in design and aesthetic in the most luxurious palaces, ostentatious cathedrals, and lavish mansions of Portugal. Bamboo, now, has the potential to and is set to command the same sophisticated and coveted position that azulejo tiles do. Like cannabis, making bamboo freely available and easy to cultivate and sell has created a plethora of opportunities in the market in everything from paper and fabrics to cosmetics. Unlike cannabis, there is no controversy surrounding the use of bamboo as a drug…!
The word, “ikat,” has its origins in the Malay-Indonesian word, “mengikat,” which means to “tie.” Originally an East-Asian textile dyeing process, since the 7th century, ikat has made its way West to India, North to Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, and South to Madagascar. Every region’s craftsmen fell in love with and appropriated the art of ikat and developed a unique tradition of it. The distinct tradition of ‘Odisha Ikat’ or “bandha” can be found in the Sambalpur, Bargarh, Sonepur, and Boudh districts of Orissa. Other Indian traditions of ikat include Patola (from Patan, Gujarat) and Pochampally (from Andhra Pradesh). According to some historical sources, ikat was introduced to Orissa by Patan artisans who migrated to the region in the 12th century.
Antique ikat print on silk from Uzbekistan
What makes ikat a unique form of “resist dyeing” is that instead of printing dyes on fabric, the warp and weft threads of the loom are dyed in order to create a hazy pattern. This is where it gets its name: “poetry on the loom” because the dyeing is a kind of artistry conducted on the loom itself as weavers delicately thread dyed yarn through fabric. In Odisha, the Lord Jagannath cult is closely associated with the textile art of ikat. Motifs and designs resemble rudraksh beads and temple towers, and some craftsmen draw and dye Gitagovinda hymns on fabrics, which are then used to dress up the idols in the Jagannath Temple. A sect of artists in Western Orissa known as the Bhullas, employ a design style called the double-ikat, which is distinct in pattern, tradition, and style from the ikat designs of Eastern Orissa. The two predominant artisan casts are the Bhulla (or Bhulia Meher caste) and the Gandia-Patra caste.
Sambhalpuri ikat saree – design and style unique to the Sambhalpur region of Orissa (Source: Wikimedia Commons; photograph by Sujith Kumar)
In order to dye the warp and weft threads, ikat yarn is first bundled using rubber bands and strips of cloth in very specific manner to impress specific patterns on the yarn when the strips are dyed. These cloths are dyed with vegetable dyes enabling the yarn to soak up the colour in a specific pattern. Finally, the cloth is untied and the process is repeated with new strips of cloth tied and dyed in alternative bundles to create more vibrant and variegated patterns. Depending on the shade, pattern, and intricacy of the design, ikat dyeing can be completed in anywhere from three to fourteen stages. Furthermore, ikat styles – namely, single (or warp ikat), double (or weft ikat), or combined (both warp and weft) – differ in how the warp and weft threads of the loom are bundled, tied, and dyed together, and the more complex the tied mesh, the longer it takes for artisans to complete a single pattern.
Orissa Weaver assiduously weaving ikat-dyed threads on the handloom (Source: Journalist, Shefali Vaidya)
When the ikat threads are woven onto the final fabric, both sides of the fabric are patterned and dyed because the entire strand of yarn has been dyed instead of printing on one side of cloth. Since the handicraftsman cannot use any predesigned template or print to produce an ikat pattern, the thread has to be dyed carefully and slowly and woven onto the loom assiduously. Consequently, a multi-coloured ikat saree can take two craftsmen up to seven months to make. Combined ikat is rare and expensive, which is why it is done primarily for Patola sarees (in Patan, Gujarat), which are among the most expensive sarees in India.
A Patola saree from Patan, Gujarat; Patola handloom sarees are among the most expensive and coveted sarees in India
Sihasn’s Odisha ikat is of feathery, curvilinear patterns that are hazy in appearance dye to the bleeding of the dyes across the warp and weft yarns. The Uzbeks refer to this aesthetic unique to ikat as “abra” or “cloud.” Under the Geographical Indicator Act of 1999, Odisha Ikat can only be produced in certain villages of Orissa (specifically Mankedia, Barapalli, Remunda, Jhiliminda, Mahalakata, Singhapali, Sonepur, Patabhdi, Sagarpali, Tarabha, Biramaharajpur, Subalaya, Kendupali, Jaganathpali, Kamalpur, Badamba, Nuapatna, Maniabadha, Narashinpur, and Tigiria).
Photo of excavated ruins of Mohenjo Daro; Over 5,000 years ago, citizens of the Indus Valley Civilization wove, wore, and traded in cotton – India’s most ancient cash crop (Source: Photographer Saqib Qayyum, Wikimedia Commons)
Excavations in Mohenjo-Daro, the Indus Valley Civilization city of 3,000 B.C. have found traces of cotton preserved in vessels. Other historical records from the Middle East and Central Asia indicate that cotton was widely traded by India across the world well before the 1st century A.D. By the time British rule was established in India, India was the largest cotton-producing company in the world after the US. While cultivation was India’s forte, British colonial rule prevented any form of cotton weaving and finished cloth from Britain was forced upon Indian consumers. This provided the cornerstone for Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom struggle for India’s independence. Gandhi was the original Khadi weaver. Every day, as a matter of principle and to set an example to the Indian people, Gandhi spun his own thread and wove his own apparel – a meagre loincloth – as an act of defiance against the British.
Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian nation, is associated all over the world with this image – of wearing a simple loincloth and sitting at his chakra every day to spin cotton yarn (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Khadi cotton weaving has since continued with a devoted fervour among NGOs and cooperatives around India. However, the cotton and textile industry in India, has suffered dramatically since the 1980s, firstly due to strikes that stymied textile mills, and secondly due to indefatigable competition from China. Synthetic materials like polyester have also put cotton textile production on the back foot. Khadi handloom weaving – its unique quality, hand-crafted nature, and compelling story – is putting up a tough fight for survival in India today. Because of its legacy and association with Gandhi and the powerful source of employment and empowerment it provides rural weavers, Khadi is more popular in the Indian market than industrial woven cotton.
Formidable competition from China is making it difficult for India’s cotton textile industry to keep pace (Source: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; http://www.scienceimage.csiro.au/image/10736)
The Deccan Plateau is famed for its volcanic black soil and abundant monsoon rains that irrigate the land perfectly for cotton cultivation. Black, red, and soil rich in alluvium are generously spread across the South Indian Deccan state of Telengana which, as a result, can grow the longest staple cotton fibre variety in India. Its length, quality, and sheen render it the ideal cotton for apparel. The handloom cotton used by Sihasn was sourced by Blue Lotus, a Hyderabad-based enterprise that works with over 100 weavers and 25 spinners of cotton. Blue Lotus was the brainchild of social entrepreneur, Durgalakshmi Venkataswamy. She has ensured that the final woven handloom cotton cloth accesses the markets and has outlets for sales. Besides being a veritable source of employment for Telengana cotton weavers, Blue Lotus is committed to delivering strictly organic products; its weavers utilize only natural dyes on their woven cloths.
Cotton Picking’ and under image, provide the following heading: “In India, cotton picking, processing, spinning, and weaving is a major source of employment and empowerment (Source: Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Claude Renault)”
THE RICH HISTORY OF FABRIC PAINTING IN SOUTH INDIA
Painting on fabric is 3,000 years old in India. Ajrakh has been found at the site of Mohenjo-dara. From the times of the Indus Valley Civilization, Kalamkari fabric painting grew as a unique art form, which is today to be found in Andhra Pradesh. The ancient temple town of Kalahasti is home to some of the most vibrant and creative Kalamkari painting to be found anywhere. The word, ‘Kalamkari’ is derived from the Persian words “kalam” meaning “pen,” and “kari” meaning “craftsmanship.” A is pen fashioned out of bamboo and horse-hair is attached to one the end to serve as a brush to paint with.
Sihasn’s rocking chairs are upholstered with vibrant Kalamkari cotton fabrics from Sri Sai Kalamkari Silks and women-centric artisan network, Dwarka PlusUnder the Mughal rulers of Golconda, Kalamkari flourished as an art form well into the 18th century. The Golconda sultanate was famous for its patronage of several varieties of art including Golconda-style miniature painting. Two towns in Andhra Pradesh emerged as the loci for the most popular Kalamkari art and unique styles of painting – Srikalahasti and Machlipatnam. Kalamkari artists, or ‘qualamkars” as they were referred to, first took to painting hangings and canopies for the towns’ main temples. They would use these hangings as backdrops for the idols worshiped in the temples and themes painted included anything inspired by nature, such as birds and trees, to scenes from Hindu mythology. Srikalahasti, or Kalahasti, was a temple town that had been a popular pilgrimage site for Hindus since the 6th century. Soon enough, pilgrims, tourists, Mughal courtiers, and the British, grew fond of the art and placed orders for the textiles to be used in apparel and to be exported to the West. In the Middle Eastern market, Kalamkari-painted fabrics were used as prayer rugs and door covers. Machlipatnam, especially, became a centre of mass production.
A highly intricate Kalamkari painting by the women artists of Dwarka from the ancient temple town of Kalahasti
THE PAINSTAKING PROCESS OF KALAMKARI
Both Machlipatnam and Kalahasti follow similar processes for creating Kalamkari paintings. Artists of Machlipatnam incorporate the use of wooden blocks for printing as well. These two centres of Kalamkari painting are ideal for supporting the art form; the Andhra artisans can easily source the cotton fabric on which to do the Kalamkari painting from the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The state of Andhra Pradesh itself is rich in plant and vegetable resources like eggplant, tomato, and ladyfingers from which to extract the natural dyes to paint with. Most importantly, Kalamkari painting requires a natural water source that can be used to wash the colours from the painted fabrics without staining the paintings. In Kalahasti, the river, Swarnamukhi, serves this purpose, while in Machlipatnam, the Kalia canal emptying out in the Bay of Bengal is used. Before washing the final painting in the rivers, the artists boil it in alizarin and water. Gaja leaves from the local forest are sprinkled into this mixture. This ensures that the colours don’t run across the fabric when rinsed in the rivers. Final touches to the painting are done using a fine pen fashioned out of a tamarind twig; these include detailing scenes in Hindu mythology and adding more fine lines to motifs like peacocks and lotus flowers.
The ancient temple town of Kalahasti is a fountainhead for some of India’s most creative Kalamkari”; Source: Wikipedia article, ‘Srikalahasti,’ Author: రవిచంద్ర
The process of creating a Kalamkari painting is taxing 23-step one, all the way from dyeing and bleaching the cotton, to painting, starching, and rinsing the final fabric. Cow dung is used to treat the cotton, which is then doused in a mixture of buffalo milk and myrobalans or “kaaraykha podi,” which prevent the colours from smudging and merging with each other. The final painting is washed and dried about 20 times. Today, silk fabric has grown in popularity for use in Kalamkari painting. For the painting itself, a draft sketch is drawn using a burnt tamarind stick, and then the bamboo kalam is used for painting the bold black outlines, also known as “kasim,” which are filled in with bright colours. The black colour is derived from an aged mixture of jaggery and rusted iron. Yellow colour is derived dust from myrobalan fruit and pomegranate peels, red is derived from bark of madder or algirin and alum, and blue is derived from indigo. Several other flowers and plants are used to create different hues of various colours.
DWARKA PLUS – THE GIRLS OF KALAHASTI
Dwarka Plus is one of the suppliers of fabric from whom Sihasn has sourced its Kalamkari. Dwarka’s journey since its inception in 1999 is an inspiring story about the revival of an art in tandem with the empowerment of the women artists practicing it. Founded by Anita Reddy and her father, Dwaraknath Reddy, who reached out to 25 impoverished artisan families, Dwarka today is now a large and sophisticated network of women across South India who can avail of financial donations from the trust (entirely donated by its revenues), technical education opportunities, and employment in the Kalamkari craft. The Reddys had started by initially donating money towards helping the artisan families upgrade their businesses, as well as retailing Kalamkari art for the artisans. They had been moved by the severe plight of the artist-turned beggars. Thus was founded a trust, one of many initiatives, that today solicits immense financial support in the form of donations as well as generates revenues from the sale of Kalamkari fabrics. Today, the trust is a self-sufficient entity, which is entirely owned, managed, and funded by Dwarka’s now-empowered artisans.
Under Anita Reddy, Dwarka has grown into a vast women’s network that does some of the most outstanding Kalamkari art in the world and has breathed life into it through their sarees and other products
Young women taken in under Dwarka’s wing, train under master artists and become highly skilled within a short span of time. These women are taught and go on to execute the long and trying process of Kalamkari painting from treating and painting the fabric, to washing and drying the final painting. They can avail of money (in the form of donations) in the event that they face medical emergencies, exigencies of poverty, or financial constraints in expanding their business capabilities. Dwarka opens their eyes to the innumerable ways in which they can be creative in the art of Kalamkari, reinvent it, and make it relevant and fashionable in today’s apparel, home décor, and even stationary. Dwarka’s girls are ahead of today’s trends and are a success at every exhibition they display at. Anita Reddy won the prestigious Padma Shri in 2011 for her relentless efforts in supporting the trust’s women. Her work has resulted in the upliftment of some of the most marginalized Dalits in South Indian villages and has taken Kalamkari art to the international stage; in 2018, Dwarka presented their work at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe.
The Mystical world of the Goddess Devotee-Artists of Ahmedabad
Ayi giri nandini, nandhitha medhini, Viswa vinodhini nandanuthe,
Jaya Jaya Mahishasura mardini, Ramya kapardini, shaila Suthe.
Daughter of the mountain, joy of this earth, rejoicing with the universe, daughter of Nanda, Victory to thee! Slayer of the evil demon, Mahishasur! With wild, enchanting hair, daughter of the Himalayas.
India is one of the last remaining corners of the world where pagan goddess worship is practiced in all its unabashed, primeval glory. Nothing says it better than Navratri, also celebrated as Durga Puja in various parts of India. Tis’ the season to be… gory… it seems?? Navratri is when Indians around the country worship the Divine Feminine in Her most fierce aspect – a destroyer of demons, a veritable warrior, a frightfully violent goddess that all the gods put together don’t dare contend with. Rare and beautiful art forms like Kalighat painting and Mata ni Pachedi capture the symbolism and ethos of this festive period of the year perfectly.
Goddess Durga ready for battle and atop an armoured cow while devotees of all sorts – asuras, devas, etc – flock to her
Ayi satha kanda, vikanditha runda, Vithunditha shunda, Gajathipathe,
Ripu Gaja ganda, Vidhaarana chanda, Paraakrama shunda, mrugathipathe,
Nija bhuja danda nipaathitha khanda, Vipaathitha munda, bhatathipathe,
Jaya Jaya Mahishasura mardini, Ramya kapardini, shaila Suthe.
Victory to you, Daughter of the mountain, Goddess who breaks heads of ogres into hundreds of pieces,Who cuts the trunks of elephants in battle, Who rides the majestic lion,Who tears the heads of elephants to pieces, Who severs the heads of her enemies with her own arms,Victory to thee! Slayer of the evil demon, Mahishasur! With wild, enchanting hair, daughter of the Himalayas.
In this Mata ni Pachedi, Durga is seated on a cow and she is readying herself for battle, while devas, asuras, and devotees cheer her on and throng to her side. This is a typical theme and display for a Mata ni Pachedi, where the goddess is central to the painting and dominates it completely. Blood red is auspicious for all Indians as it symbolizes wealth, fertility, the earth, and divine powers. When Mata ni Pachedi was first born as an art, red and black were the only two colours used. Black was believed to have the power to ward off the evil eye. Today, yellow and blue are also being used creatively.
The first Mata ni Pachedi artists emerged some 300 years ago in a small village, which is today part of Ahmedabad. A tribe of nomads, known as the Vagharis, were forbidden from entering temples because they were ‘devipujaks’ or untouchables who only and exclusively worshipped the Mother Goddess. Consequently, they hung a painting – the Mata ni Pachedi, which literally translates to mean ‘Behind the Mother Goddess’ – and hung it behind the temple where they would gather and worship Her. Thus, was born a unique artform, also known as the ‘Kalamkari of Gujarat’ because of the similar techniques to the artform of South India – painting on cloth, use of bamboo sticks or “kalams” as pens, and use of organic dyes.
The Divine Feminine is Terrifying and Beautiful at the same time; here she is depicted as Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Abundance – Delicate, Feminine, Romantic, and Nurturing
The Mata ni Pachedi artform is a labour of love requiring anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months for a 50-inch by 90-inch painting depending on the detailing entailed. Blocks for printing the motifs were traditionally fashioned out of mud, but today wooden blocks are the more popular choice of the artists. First, the artists de-starch and mordant rectangular-shaped cotton fabric and then treat it with a paste called ‘harda,’ which makes it easier for the cloth to absorb the vegetable dyes. Red is derived from tamarind seeds and black is derived from a mixture of jaggery and iron. The artisans use a combination of block-printing and painting on the cloth, which is neatly organized into a grid consisting of 7 to 9 columns; this it easy for the artists to fill in details.
Finally, the fabric is soaked in salt and cow dung before being boiled in alizarin, which deepens the hue of the colour. After this, the painting is sprinkled with castor oil and then rinsed in the Sabarmati River; this practice is critical because only running water can remove the excess water without staining the painting.Dhanu ranushanga rana kshana sanga, Parisphuradanga natath katake,
Kanaka pishanga brushathka nishanga, Rasadbhata shrunga hatavatuke,
Kritha chaturanga bala kshithirangakadath, Bahuranga ratadhpatuke,
Jaya Jaya Mahishasura mardini ,Ramya kapardini, shaila Suthe.
Victory to you, Daughter of the mountain, Goddess bedecked with ornaments,
With muscular limbs for the field of battle, Who readies her bow for war,Goddess, Destroyer of her enemies, Who kills them with a shining sword,Who braced herself beautifully, To face a four-fold enemy on the battlefield,And charge forth with screaming soldiers by her,Victory to thee! Slayer of the evil demon, Mahishasur! With wild, enchanting hair, daughter of the Himalayas.
‘Shakti’ the divine energy derived from the Divine Feminine, which assumes hundreds of forms or “avatars” across India and in the Indian peoples’ imagination
Mata ni Pachedi is not simply an artform; it is a ritual. Entire families get involved in the creation of the painting from preparing the fabric and applying colour, to washing and drying. Once completed, the artists involved gather together, conduct aartis and pujas and sing bhajans. Attendees to the pujas include a “bhuvo” or priest who oversees the rituals, “jagorais” or bhajan singers who describe the scenes in the pachedis in their songs, and the “chitaras” or artists themselves who conceived and executed the paintings. Their work schedule is busiest in the run up to Navratri, the 9-night festival ending in Vijaydashami.
Sihasn is honoured to collaborate with National Award-Winning Artist, Kirit Jayantibhai Chitara for its Mata ni Pachedis
Kirit Jayantiben comes from a “chitara” family or traditionally artist family in Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad is one of few places where Mata ni Pachedi chitara families now remain. There are a handful of families and, apart from Ahmedabad, they live in Girnar (Junagadh), Jahula (Palitana), Dhrangadhra (Surendranagar), and Ambaji (Koteshwar). These are all towns in the state of Gujarat which has received Geographical Indicator status for the production of Mata ni Pachedi. The chitara families have dwindled in number over the centuries as the interest in, awareness of, and support of the art form gradually waned, and younger generations of chitaras no longer wanted to carry on the craft traditions of the family. Kirit is a rare example of an artist who graduated from college and returned to the craft to revive and reinvent it. His father was a famous Master Craftsman who displayed his works and gave lectures at renowned universities across the country such as NID and NIFT, and also hosted visiting artists from Germany, USA, Japan, and Australia.
A Brief History of Indian Chairs
It so happens that India does not have a tradition of chairs! Which is not to say there’s been no tradition of seating. But not until the 20th century, after centuries of colonial influence, did we design living room seating.
Did you know…? That:
1. For thousands of years we did not have chairs…?!?!??
It seems strange that unlike the Chinese, Europeans, and even Egyptians, Indian civilizations did not have a culture of seating. One only needs to spend five minutes in the Design Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen dedicated entirely to Scandinavian chairs, to comprehend just how significant chairs have been in these other civilizations – not merely as décor and furniture pieces, but also as works of art and testaments to progress.
Turns out we were mostly sitting on the floor. Cross-legged. We even slept on the floor. This wasn’t a consequence of poverty – but was just functionally preferred as it required less maintenance – dusting and otherwise – to just use carpets, rugs (“dhurries”), and bolsters. In fact, old Indian mansions and palaces didn’t boast much furniture or décor; intricate carving and interior decorating were done mostly on doorways, pillars, and cabinets (almirahs). There was the occasional, charpai, chatai, or jhula (swing), but nothing else – Indians were spartan as far as seating furniture was concerned. Some Buddhist monasteries had low seating stools which were later introduced to China. Residential seating, however, was never a thing.
An Ornately-Carved 19th Century Colonial Planters Chair; Photo Credit: Website selling Luxury, Collector’s Items www.1stdibs.com
2. The first Indian chair was the ‘Planters Chair,’ courtesy of our colonial masters
Once the Portuguese and British washed up on our shores, seating furniture became a thing. They commissioned carpenters to make chairs native to Spain and Portugal– hence, the popular ‘Planters Chair,’ a one-seater Lounge with nifty, extendable arms that are more often used as footstools than armrests. In the 18th century, the British introduced carpentry in teak and rosewood and, since then, British design sensibilities have been quintessential to Indian seating styles. Folding chairs or ‘Easy Chairs’ were also hot on the scene as these were most useful at military encampments and their retractable, folding mechanisms made them light, portable, and convenient in every sense. Indian carpenters introduced their singular craftsmanship in wood carving by carving intricate ornamentation on all furniture pieces. Till today, delicately carved antique doors, ceiling panels, and pillars are restored, upcycled, and sold as vintage furniture pieces in India and abroad.
Nizam is an Upgraded and Indianized version of the typical mid-century modern Lounge chair
Introducing Nizam: An Indian, mid-century modern rendition the Planters Chair
Sihasn’s Nizam, appropriately christened to connote sophistication and regality, has a clean mid-century modern structure that is heavily stuffed, cushioned, and padded to achieve levels of uber-comfort for slothful, Indian summer afternoons. Minimalistic in contours, it is designed to be maximalist on the cushioned surface, serving as a mannequin for vibrant Indian upholstery fabrics.
Nizam is in incredible canvas to experiment with a wide range of bright and vibrant Indian upholstery textiles
Nizam is unlike other mid-century modern loungers in the Western market as it has multi-functional and detachable surface, which is perfect for the glass of wine or binge-watching Netflix on your iPad. Stylish and photogenic, Nizam is well-positioned for an Insta profile of his own 😉
Outfitted with a nifty, detachable surface, Nizam is the ideal lounge chair for the Insta-Netflix times we live in