Most Thari artisans struggle to make ends meet
harparkar boasts a rich heritage of craftsmanship, including leatherwork, shoemaking, thread weaving, shawl weaving, khatha making (traditional quilts), carpet weaving, saddle making, carpentry, wood carving, pottery, wall painting, block printing, needlework and embroidery. These crafts have a significant place in the cultural fabric of the region as they showcase the skill, creativity and artistic expression of the local artisans.
Thari embroidery typically features motifs inspired by nature, such as flowers, birds, and animals.
Embroidery and shawl weaving are an intricate blend of stitches, needle knits, patterns, designs and colours that are deeply rooted in a folk style. This exquisite craft has been passed down through generations and traces its roots to ancient times:
Pakkoh (dense embroidery). Pakkoh embroidery utilities tight square chain and double buttonhole stitch embroidery. It is known for its vibrant colours and intricate patterns. Pakkoh involves hand-stitching and needle-knit designs on fabric using colourful threads.
Kacho (light embroidery) is a light chain square embroidery craft on pieces of cloth.
Kharik is a style characterised by its precise geometric patterns. Skilled artisans plan and outline the structure using black squares by creating a framework for the design. The spaces within the outline are then filled with bands of satin stitching. What makes Kharik embroidery truly remarkable is that it covers the entire fabric, resulting in a stunning display of intricate and mesmerising patterns.
Hurmchi handicraft is net-like, two-step embroidery.
Mukka is made of golden and silver threads. It is quite rare as it is tedious work and only a few women practice this embroidery.
Ralli is a splendid patchwork quilt fashioned by skilled hands. The age-old craft dates back to thousands of years and has captivated the hearts of many worldwide. Its simple, yet elegant, process weaves bits of fabric into mesmerising quilts. Women hailing from the Tharparkar region have honed the art of ralli-making for generations. Its allure continues to grow. The essence of ralli lies in its vivid designs and vibrant hues. The traditional quilt showcases a harmonious blend of seven fundamental colours. These include the captivating shades of yellow, black, red, green, purple, blue and white, each contributing to the unique allure of a ralli. While two-colour rallis can also be found, the magnificence of the seven-colour palette remains unparalleled. Crafting a ralli involves a process of stitching together small fabric pieces, often recycled from old garments or textiles. The intricate patterns and carefully selected colours of the ralli carry deep symbolic meanings, mirroring the rich tapestry of the natural environment and cultural traditions of the Tharparkar region.
The livelihood of Thari people depends on cattle rearing, tending cropland and artisanry. The local artisans often find themselves underpaid. Those who profit the most are typically exploiting these artisans by purchasing their creations at low prices and selling them at exorbitant rates in urban markets.
Thus, the diverse skills of Thar’s people go to waste due to limited resources, a lack of efficient marketing structures and planning, inadequate governance and a scarcity of women-led initiatives. Some of Thar’s cherished crafts and skills may soon be extinct unless there are suitable interventions.
“This intricate craft has been passed down through generations, embodying the essence of our heritage. The earnings we derive from our embroidery work hold profound significance in our lives. They are instrumental in supporting our children’s education, acquiring household necessities and covering various other expenses. It is disheartening that our efforts and dedication often go unnoticed and unrewarded in the market,” says Devi.
“Embroidery is more than just a labour of love for us. It is an expression of our culture and identity. After doing our daily household chores, we find solace and joy in dedicating our remaining time to the art of embroidery,” says Devi, 50.
“This intricate craft has been passed down through generations. It embodies the essence of our heritage. The earnings we derive from embroidery work hold profound significance in our lives. They are instrumental in supporting our children’s education, acquiring household necessities and covering various other expenses. It is disheartening that our efforts and dedication often go unnoticed and unrewarded in the market,” says Devi.
Devi continues, “local dealers exploit our craft by purchasing our embroidered creations at meagre prices and subsequently selling them at exorbitant rates. The stark contrast between the prices we receive and the prices charged for these crafts in bigger cities and foreign markets is disheartening. Despite these challenges, we persist because embroidery is a part of who we are. We hope for a future where our skills are valued and our hard work is acknowledged accordingly.”
Thari men prepare shawls (wool and loom). They also make woollen bags.
Khatho is a hand woven shawl produced using wool. The Khatho comes in shades of red, black, orange and rust, achieved using natural dyes.
Thari Khatho bags are made from wool with multi-coloured threads.
Thari shawl (made from loom) is crafted with multiple indigenous designs that are unique to Thar. Earlier, Thari people used to make shawls, blankets and carpets from fur and wool. Now they only use cotton and silk threads, making these items affordable. Each shawl has three to four colours.
Tabo Meghwar is the hub of shawl weaving. It is located in the Thar desert, about 28 kilometres from Mithi city. 145 households contribute to weaving and embroidering shawls to make ends meet.
“In the Tabo Meghwar village, the craft has been passed down through generations,” says Parvez Meghwar, 23, from Tabo Meghwar village.
“I have been weaving shawls for 10 years. Before I learnt this art, my father and grandfather used to weave shawls. Each shawl takes six to ten days to complete, depending on the intricacy of the design. The prices are based on the quality,” says Meghwar. The shawl weaving season commences in October and extends until February.
“During these four months, we immerse ourselves in the art and weave diligently to create exquisite shawls. The rainy season begins in the month of April. We then start tending cropland to make ends meet,” says a young boy, Amrat.
Thar’s embroidery products make popular gifts and are often part of the dowry for young brides.
The craft should be preserved by supporting the embroiderers and shawl weavers and providing training and resources to the people to promote artistic expression and their cultural heritage.
The writer is a teacher and climate and human rights activist. X handle @ChandaniDolat