On the second day after I landed in New Delhi, I went to visit the Sanskriti Museum of Textiles near the Qutub Minar 15th century historic site on the south side of town.
It’s a small, private collection hidden away behind gates on the expansive grounds of an estate that is now an educational center. I was able to combine this stop with one at nearby Nature Bazaar for textile shopping. You could visit these three destinations in a day!
The Sanskriti Museum of Textiles is important because it explains the process to make ajrakh block printing that ultimately colors the cloth in layers of complexity and depth. Usually, it is blue and red, combining indigo and madder root.
It’s Muslim origins come from the Sindh (Pakistan) and Gujarat, Kutch, India. These areas, now politically distinct, share ancient common artistic, cultural, historical and religious roots.
Peopled by nomadic herders who traveled on camels in search of grazing lands, the block printed cloth was traditionally used for men’s turbans and wrap-around pants. These block prints are among the most treasured in the world.
The Sanskriti Museum tells the block printing story by showing the stages on cloth panels. You first start by washing the cotton, then you use a mud past to apply the first pattern with a hand carved wood block. A few steps of the multi-step process are below.
After each step, the cloth is washed and then laid out on the ground to dry.
India is the world’s largest producer of cotton. Some of it, like the finest organic muslin, has the hand of silk, is diaphanous and soft, drapes beautifully.
A new town, Ajrakhpur, devoted only to block printing, was recently established by Abduljabbar Mohamed Khatri. The dominant figure living and working here is his son Sufiyan, who goes regularly to the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe. Of course, there are other unknown talents to discover here.
I became so overwhelmed by the choice of textiles that I couldn’t focus and only bought one small indigo block printed wool/silk scarf, that is now in the possession of my sister. Fortunately, I managed to concentrate enough to take a few photos!
When I was in Ahmedabad, my first priority was to get to the famous block printing shop of the Gamthiwala family, just across the Nehru Bridge in the new city a short distance from House of MG. They have a smaller shop in the old city, much more romantic, where the selection isn’t as extensive.
In the photo above, the block print on the left (red and blue) is from Khavda, Kutch and is an original Sindh design from Pakistan. From the top right, indigo print from Gamthiwala Fab; indigo and turmeric dyed block print from Rajisthan; next indigo block print, Gamthiwala Fab; next, block print indigo and madder scarf from Fab India made in Gujarat; next, indigo and madder block print from Rajasthan; next from Gamthiwala, an indigo, madder and iron (ferrous oxide) block print; block print dress bought at Fab India.
And, just so you know that I was having fun, this is a betel leaf cigarette. Do you believe I didn’t inhale? Caught in the act at the Little Rann of Kutch, Dasada, Gujarat. Thanks, Jumed.
Tamil Nadu is the India state source for indigo. It is in the south, tropical and perfect for production. It is also the place where terracotta figures were discovered. When I saw them, they reminded me of the soldiers unearthed in Xian, China, that I saw in the early 1990’s, though on a much smaller scale.
Tomorrow, I leave Southern California for Oaxaca, where life resumes not as usual either! I am almost recovered from jet lag. Stay tuned for the next installment.
India Journal: Wazir Museum Quality Vintage Textiles
This is my last day in Bhuj, Gujarat, India. Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 13, I begin the journey back to America. It is morning here. I awake to the sound of Bollywood-style raucous music, loud, cymbals clanging, trumpets tooting, and look out the window.
A.A. Wazir, born in 1944, shows vintage Rabari embroidered bag
There is a parade with floats on the street beneath my hotel window and everyone is dressed in white: flowing gowns, turbans, tunics. Today is Mohammed’s birthday, Eid, celebrated with a lavish feast that Muslims around the world observe. There are many Eid celebrations during the year, moving with the lunar calendar, the most auspicious being Ramadan.
Old embroidered Ahir textile with fine detail
Kutch, Gujarat, India is a mixed region that represents most faiths of Asia’s subcontinent: Hindu, Muslim, Parsi, Jains, Ismailis and more. There are centuries of acceptance and tolerance here. The Kutch is on an ancient trade route between Persia, Africa, China. It’s culture and peoples are rich and diverse.
Natural dyes of madder root, saffron and turmeric root color this 80 year old textile
Last evening I spent time again at the home and gallery of A.A. Wazir and his sons who operate Museum Quality Textiles. Youngest son Salim Wazir, who was our guide to the Great Rann of Kutch, is soft-spoken and filled with knowledge about Kutchi traditions and textiles. At the end of the evening, A.A. Wazir invited us to return today for the feast of Eid in their home. We are honored by the invitation and accept without hesitation.
Souf embroidery with their famous satin stitch, graphically powerful
Eid Mubarak. This is the greeting of the feast day, I learn from Wikipedia. The tradition is to serve sweets. Young girls paint their hands with henna. Blinking lights adorn the house in preparation.
Reserve side of embroidered textile, on old block print
We are treated to a show and tell of vintage textiles that are part of A.A. Wazir’s 45 year old collection. He tells us that he donated many pieces to the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico some years ago. His dream is to open a museum here in Bhuj, but there is no funding from federal or state government to do it properly, with good preservation techniques.
Finest embroidery on silk bandhani tie dye, a special occasion garment
A.A. Wazir began his education in Mumbai in the early 1960’s as a commerce student. He didn’t take to the subject, instead wanting to spend his time at the Prince of Wales Museum studying painting. He speaks Gujarati, Kutchi, Hindi, Arabic and English. He began visiting Kutch tribal areas as a young man when the border between Pakistan and India was open, when relatives could travel and visit back and forth without restrictions.
Mid-century commercial lace made in England for India market
His collection expanded to include pieces from the rich Sindh river valley. After several devastating earthquakes in the region, the course of the rivers changed and western India became more arid. People needed money and began to sell off more of their dowry textiles to buy food.
Rabari embroidered storage bag, 40 years old
For collectors, there are still many beautiful pieces available including gold-filled silver brocades on silk, machine-made lace made in England for the Indian market, stunning embroideries on natural, hand-woven cotton, fine silk bandhani saris and scarves.
Stunning silk brocade work with gold-filled silver threads.
We learned that people wore their wealth in textiles and jewelry. Many still do. The old textiles are embellished with precious metal threads, intricate bead work, coins, small, tight embroidery stitches, designs of flowers, birds, elephants, trees of life.
Salim’s cousin shows us the bodice of a child’s dress.
Being with the Wazir family for several hours is a treat for the visual senses. When you come to Bhuj, be certain to plan several visits so you don’t feel rushed.
Another incredible collector’s piece.
Posted in Clothing Design, Cultural Commentary, Photography, Textiles, Tapestries & Weaving, Travel & Tourism
Tagged AA Wazir, Bhuj, Embroidery, folk art, Gujarat, India, Kutch, museum, Salim Wazir, textiles, vintage, Wazir