Traveling thru Kutch you run in to Camels, specifically Kharai Camels.
Some of the community that lives in this arid climate are nomadic, these camels are connected to so many parts of their lives. These communities herd these camels through the mangroves and the desert, and live with them year round. They use the camel’s milk for nourishment, the camel’s wool for warmth and textiles around their house, and the camels are used as “work horses” to help move people and goods across the arid region.
The art of looming the camel’s wool was once a pretty “common” trade. Many families in the region worked with the wool that the herders would collect. The wool is shorn only once a year, by scissors, and collected to make everyday items for the herders. The blanket that drapes under the camel’s saddle, the belt that cinches around the camel, the herders’ bags, the rugs that cover the mud floors of their homes, and more would all be made by the herd’s wool. All that wool is spun and loomed by hand as camel hair is a shorter length of wool.
In Kutch there are only a few families left that work with camel wool. Like many old world systems, the chain has been broken by new age “technology”. Camels aren’t needed to traverse the desert region as much as before, so there are less herders. The herders no longer use so much of the camel wool fabric as they now use newer fabrics, such as polyester, since they are cheaper and not so labor intensive to maintain. As the demand lessens, the families that produced the fabric go into other lines of work, and the skills to create the fabric is no longer passed down from generation to generation.
In this part of Kutch there is one family that has stayed with the art, repurposing the craft to more modern uses. The belts that used to cinch saddles on to the camels now are used as decorative wall hangings.
The patriarch of this family is Tejsibhai Harijan, an older gentleman with the old world mustache and calm demeanor. He has not only passed down the skill of weaving the camel wool into beautiful durable cloth to his sons, he himself has won a national award for one of his weavings.
His award winning weaving, hanging behind him on the wall, tells the story of his community. Showing the camels that are tied to their everyday lives, their homes, farming, a wedding, a celebration, and a pilgrimage. He shows people in everyday events, and special moments of the year. All the scenes are woven in as he looms giving the piece a flat two dimensional painting sort of feel.
The looms themselves are simplistic in design, which makes the fact that such beautiful, lasting pieces are made from them. An arc of two logs braces the weave slightly above the ground, as the weft is thrown back in forth in a wooden toggle.
Tension is brought on by tethering to anchors on the ground. The whole process has not changed much over the centuries, which truly amazes me.
I hope these rugs can bring warmth and beauty to your home for generations!