Book Review

Craft, Handloom, Art, Reviews

Book Review: Textiles & Dress of Gujarat by Eiluned Edwards reviewed by Jasleen Dhamija

Dhamija, Jasleen

The fabrics, costumes of Gujarat and specially Kutch have attracted a number of writers from all over the world. Many influences through migrations and trade, led to the evolution of a way of life, which has richness and variety that gets reflected in their arts, crafts, ritual observations and rites of passage. The repertoire of techniques, designs, motifs is quite distinctive.

Eiluned Edwards’ book “Textiles and Dress of Gujarat has added to the innumerable publications. Each one had made contributions, with perhaps the most important in the seminal work of Jyotindra Jain in his catalogue for the Shreyas Museum. Vicky Elson’s, “Dowries of Kutch”, drew a lot of people to investigate the richness of the Kutch environment. Ofcourse, Judy Frater’s contribution at many levels cannot be matched. Emma Tarlo broke new ground by examining the interconnection of the “Webs of Trade, Dynamics of Business Communities in Western India”, as well as the changing social dynamics in which the apparel plays an important role.

This publication has been very well researched and has a plethora of information, which would be very useful to researcher and students of textiles. It has succeeded to carry us from the past to the contemporary scene, but as can happen when far too much information is included in a publication, the more interesting facts are lost sight of.

It is good that, the author explains the formation of “Modern Gujarat”, which I think no other publication on textiles has done, but she should have gone into a little more depth. What is lacking in the sweep of history is the author has forgotten the impact of Central Asia from where many tribes migrated from the very early times by the land route and created a rich culture. Traces of these rich cultures can be seen even today. The importance of the links between Multan for trading with Central Asia and the Steppes from Ashkhabad, north of Caspian, could have been touched upon.

Her chapter on Contemporary Dress where she explores “caste and community: modesty adornment and auspiciousness and pollution” is very well written.

Her chapter on Constructed Textiles starts off with an interesting title “Fabrics of the Gods” and one thought we would get now some more interesting details, but again it is a collection of facts without any depth. We do not learn anything of the Dar-al-Tiraz of the beginning of the Islamic period, the movement of master weavers, the movement of Brocade from Syria and Bokhara, the Nakshabandhas who arrived in Surat and spread all over India.

The embroidery chapter lacks the in-depth writings of other authors such as Rosemary Crill, Nasreen Askari, Gillows nor does it tackle the impact of the prohibitions on bead work and later embroidery by the Rabari community. The embroidery of Saurashtra, which has a rich tradition, does not feature at all.

Craft Development and Entrepreneurship goes into the situation as it exists today and the appendix, which carries out the analysis of the construction of the garment, is excellent.

In the breathless haste to cram all the information into the publication, she failed to bring out significant facts. If she had paused for a moment, she could have added certain details of the significance about some professions, of techniques, of rituals, of rites of passage. This would have added a dimension to the book, which would have carried it beyond a just an intensively researched publication. Had she put in a line to indicate that the nomadic namda makers, the Mansooris were Sufis, descendents of nomads of Central Asia and how the rhythm of zikr and namda making were linked. The patolas used as ritual objects were not only important in Gujarat, but played an important part in South East Asia. The significance of Ajrak the blue from Arabic, and its traversing half the world and perhaps being linked to the fragment of mordant dyed Harappan fragment found adhering to a silver jug, would have made us sit and pay greater attention to it. However, Ms. Edwards is to be congratulated in the wide coverage, which puts the study of Textiles & Dress of Gujarat in context.

The richly illustrated book looses out because the layout is very poor and some photographs are repeated. Often the illustration is out of context and has no bearing with the text. The greatest strength of the publication is a fairly extensive research and the fact that it has been very well edited by Carmen Kagel.



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