The Kutchi Top- Unique and bright clothing of tribal women in Kutch, India
“Drifting through the sun
On dry lakes in high deserts;
The dust devils spin
Uplifting earth to brown skies.
Before pale grey eyes,
Stands the heart of the badlands,
Scorched, blown and barren,
But holding the hidden life
Shaded by tall stones of Sand.”
On my maiden trip to the desert land of Kutch, I was taken by the expansive space and nothingness. My empty bus trudged along the empty road. The only noise I could hear was the grunting of the old and quite run down state bus I sat in. As I looked out from the window, the bright free-flowing dupatta of a woman wearing Ghagra Choli caught my eye. It was cleverly hiding her almost bareback but the swift winds exposed the delicate threads and the unique design of her blouse.
A typical Kutch blouse has a mix of different types of fabric with hand embroidery. Women like to create their own designs.
“Even though, Kutch is so far away from the modern world. The clothing choices are quite bold and daring. Kutchi women are not afraid of colors, accessories or bare backs.”
“It is said the cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat or the sea.”
You get all three, 130 km away from Ahmedabad, Gujarat in the salt water marshland of Kutch. The Kutch district is a melting pot of numerous tribal communities with distinctive pasts, brought together by the vast salt land like a perfectly cooked dish with the right amount of salt that changes its flavor forever.
There is something spectacular and morose about being in Kutch, like a Shakespeare’s play. It is irresistible nonetheless.
What the scenery lacks in color and variety is compensated by the people.
Some women are always in their colorful attires or in plain stark black woolen outfits like the Rabaris. Men can be seen in their bright Pathani kurtas complimented with even brighter scarfs neatly wrapped around their necks or on their heads to protect themselves from the deadly heat.
You can often spot a shepherd in his white kedio and pagdi walking the sheep and goats lovingly holding the youngest one in his arms. Camels gaze back at you, casually chewing seeming to ask, “What are you doing here?”
Kutch is home to Agariyas, salt makers of the desert who have been its inhabitants for centuries. Their name is derived from the Hindi word, “Aag” meaning fire. It describes what they do best. Toil in the sun and inhuman conditions to make salt. Since Agariya people have to continuously stand in salt fields, their cracked, wounded feet, filled with sand are burned separately on their death.
Kutch is also the home of Copper bell makers, Rogan art painters, Embroiderers, Ajrakh block printers, Pottery makers, Woodworkers, and Weavers. Each community has succeeded in maintaining their traditions and supporting other communities too.
There is so much one can say and so much more one can discover about this land. I found my own gold here in the form of this sparkling gold Kutchi Blouse that I instantly fell in love with!
The history of Kutch can be dated back to the Prehistoric times as several sites of Indus Valley civilization have been found here.
Around the Ninth Century, a group of Muslims emigrated from the Sindh and with the help of five brothers, settled in Kutch attaining sovereignty over the land. The descendants of the five brothers took the name of Jharejah from a leader named Jharrah. Jharrah was ruthless leader who killed seven of his daughters on the same day.
Kutch was under their rule for several years, until Humerjee a Chief was killed by Jam Rawul. His son, Khengarjee upon knowing the fate of his father, ran away to Ahmedabad to seek help from the Viceroy. The Viceroy, his brother-in-law, lent his support to him and sent an army to attain revenge for killing Humerjee. Jam Rawul fled from the conflict with his supporters to a placed called Kaatiwar and set up the town of Nuwanuggur.
Khengarjee won his place in the land back and took on the title of Rao or Rawul A.D. 1549. Till 1666 the continued to rule as the firstborns became the rulers. Family politics came to the fore again, but the unrest left the land especially under Rao Daisul’s reign A.D. 1719. He spread his rule further, defeated four armies and took personal responsibility for developing his constituencies. However, his son Lacca usurped him and brought unrest back. For three centuries, Kutch was ruled by the Jadeja dynasty.
It was in the middle of the Eighteenth century, that a council by the name Bar Bhayat ni Jamat made Rao Khengarji I as a titular head. When the British East India Company came to India in 1819, Kutch was defeated in battle and took the suzerainty of the British. Kutch was acceded into the dominion of India upon independence and created as a State within the Union of India in 1950.
The Kutchi Blouse has the same characteristics as its land. It is traditional, seeped in culture and is a unique clothing form, a nod to all the bright history hiding behind the plain salt lands. I can’t wait to wear to it again!
Until next time,