Craft, Handloom, Art, Research

Embroidery: The Vanishing Heritage of the Nomadic Rabaris

Edwards, Eiluned


The nomadic Rabaris of Kutch have produced some of the most spectacular embroidery of the Indian sub-continent. Inspection reveals a distinctive and coherent visual vocabulary expressed with great skill. It is a marker of their identity and plays such an important role in their traditional way of life that it has now seen as a barrier to change and is subject to a ban, which is rigorously enforced.

A glimpse of the dramatic attire of the Rabari, predominantly black wool for the women and white cotton for the men, impacts on the eye in sharp contrast to the dun-coloured landscape of the village or the kaleidoscopic hues of the bazaar. Closer inspection reveals a distinctive and coherent visual vocabulary expressed in supremely skilful embroidery.

However, in the last year, a radical piece of self-legislation has been introduced by the samaj, or community council of two of the three sub-groups in Kutch. A wholesale ban on the use of embroidery has been decreed by the Dhebaria and Vagaria samaj and an accompanying severe reduction in the amount of ornamentation to be worn. Only the Kachhi Rabaris remain aloof from the new austerity.

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