The image above captures the glorious freedom of spirit and strong sense of identity that is associated with the nomadic “Banjaras”. The nomadic tribes originate from the desert sands of Rajasthan and Gujarat from where a group journeyed through to the Northern part of Karnataka in Southern India. The tribe is known as the Lambanis.
The heavy, layered style of jewellery, the chunky pieces complimented with delicate dangling chains and bells, the borders framing theirs attire meticulously embroidered in square and round mirror-work, the colourful continuum of patchwork, into which are sewn in conch-shells and finally the stunning array of silver coins accenting the edges…these are merely the few ornaments adorning the braided hair and covered head!
There are delicate nose-pins or nose-rings, chokers in beads or silver, longer neck-pieces with pendants, bracelets commencing on the wrists that then are layered right up to the armpits, amulets, anklets and the usual rings et al.
The skirts are always in brilliant colours, flowing, layered and swirling around the ankles in consonance with the majestic gait that is the hallmark of these striking handsome women. The cholis or blouses are each, individual, works of art. The centre piece for the yolk is traditionally rectangular with larger and small mirror and patterns created in patchwork and the sleeves are perfectly symmetrical and compliment the structure and form of the yolk. The back is open and pulled close using tie-back with tassels at the ends. This allows for the blouse to fit over the course of a woman’s lifetime! Its comfortable, convenient and gorgeous. They don’t dress, to follow or create fashions. They dress to express and be who they are. Banjaras.
There is often supreme irony in the role perception plays in social commentary. The nomadic tribes are the timeless travellers and journeymen. In my view, they anticipated and as part of their view of a natural order, lived the life globalization has over the last decades triggered in countries across the world. We’ve witnessed unprecedented migrations of people from rural to urban, as globalization, powered by the internet and open markets, created opportunities for skills-development and employment.
The Banjaras, have for centuries, travelled from one place to another, displaying their unique crafts, their products with an innate entrepreneurial streak and a natural ease of doing business. Their women have sung the songs of creation and sewn together patches of clashing colours, different textures and then embroidered patterns that reveal the glory of Nature. Their mystical tattoos symbolize their unique interpretation of an eternal order. These are never random or devoid of meaning. On the contrary, each is always perfectly uniform in content and form and consistent, in keeping with the origins of the tribe and the individuals place in the universe which is never constant but always dynamic and evolving. To one tattoo is added another as the person experiences the next milestone. Every piece of ornament, every piece of garment and every tattoo is in harmony with the individuals roots and place in the world.
If we took a hard and honest look at the nomadic tribes, we would discover that they were indeed the first expressions of what was to follow as an emerging global world-view. They did not choose to champion this change nor is there any evidence of their attempting to influence existing social orders, as they walked besides the established status quo, at their own pace, following their own rituals and traditions, inhabiting an alternate and parallel way of life. In truth, the were never considered for any permanent membership in any social context nor expected to participate integrally in any fashion. Their lot and their choice remained, in perpetuity, at the periphery.
The Banjaras have remained rooted in the most holistic meaning of the word even as they travelled from place to place. We, the other part of humanity, that formulated written and spoken language and attributed meaning to words that came from our singular reference-points, have referred to their state of being, as nomadic or “rootless”. As though being rooted was a physical state of being!
As migrations increase and cities expand into bordering villages and the lines become more blurred, there are growing concerns of traditions being eroded, cultures being diluted, indigenous populations being overwhelmed by the influx of “outsiders” or migrants and the migrants themselves, dealing with the angst of “loss of identity”.
A few moments of gazing into this photograph would help draw attention to the reality that in a transient, impermanent lifetime, the Banjaras and Nomads, exemplify what being “rooted” should be. To be free to roam freely, to journey through life working to earn an honest living, to engage with all peoples equally, to belong everywhere and no where, to carry one’s rooted and identity within oneself and wear it on one’s person with abandon, these are life’s best lessons and there are no schools and universities where these can be learnt.
The Nomads are perhaps the finest icons of lives well-lived. Free yet rooted.
Welcome to the Origins. A place within us all that stands still as Time moves past. Untouched, pristine and Centered. One with Creation, in harmony with Nature and our deepest selves. Humankind has evolved and perhaps, far beyond the realm of the imagination of our fore-fathers/mothers. We open a can or packet to feed ourselves and all manner of produce and products are available to one with the right printed-paper in one’s wallet.
However, the Origins remain intact somewhere deep within and this is evidenced in the joy of peeling opening a fresh Banana and devouring it to the very end before sending the selfless Banana-skin flying-out into the nearest bin or oftentimes just about anywhere it can reach! Its bio-degradable and disturbs our conscience less. Yes, we all do still have one. Remember? The Origins, they remain intact!
In the Southern states of India, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, the Banana tree is a mainstay and life-source with the fruit, in raw form and in ripe form, providing every nutrition in fresh form and also, as Plantain Chips and Savories that made to be preserved over a long time.
The hardworking women of the villages have over time developed a fantastic fibre from the external bark of the matured Banana trees. The bark, once soaked, becomes soft and pliable-enough to be used at the spinning-wheel to spin into yarn. This fibre makes for amazing, esoteric, environmentally-friendly and classy one-of-a-kind handmade products. Dining-table Mats, Stationery holders, Kitchen Baskets and even Cool and Savvy Wine-bottle holders!
Each product is entirely natural and safe and every purchase is sourced directly from the hands of the women in remote village that toil to collect, spin and then make every individual product as a small group in their rural communities.
With the power of the internet, widely pervasive telecom infrastructure, mobile communications and e-payment gateways, any one globally can exercise the choice to participate actively in energizing sustainable eco-systems.
Do Good. Feel Better. There’s only One You. Be Unique. Buy Unique.
Photos Courtesy CraftsBazaar: www.craftsbazaar.com
This painting by an Indian artist evokes a strong response of fear, exploitation and silent inadequacy, if you’re a woman. I imagine it evokes revulsion and outrage for the majority of men viewing it. No reasonable person remains untouched by the scourge of inequality and injustice.
For societies on either ends of the hemispheres, and all those in between and around, one among the top three challenges to humanity and perhaps, by far, the most abiding and impossible to comprehend, remains the inequality of women. In a universe where Creation itself rests within the folds of a woman’s being, how did this utterly illogical, imbalanced and regressive approach find room to plant it’s seed, gain egregious ground and proliferate exponentially?!
How did women allow themselves to become unequal victims, in mind, body and soul? Why did they not arise and offend their silent, patriarchal oppressors, as mothers and grandmothers, if they were unable to do so as wives? When did it come to pass that a daughter deserves less in life and perhaps no life at all?
I lived past fifty and these questions moved past their expiry-date and were cast away into the vast unknown of mysteries that won’t in my lifetime have an answer for my mortal, limited-edition selfhood. I did, as far back as I can recall, never think myself less equal as a girl nor as a woman. Nor did I for an infinitesimal moment think any other woman or man was less equal. I wasn’t in la-la land nor was I stupid. I realized circumstances were unequal to people and that therefore, people were less or more able to do with themselves as they would like. I did recognize, very quickly though, that with this thinking, I was in the minority and my environment did not see me or indeed all humans, as equal. That gender, was an insurmountable lifelong birth-defect and while you could get successful, rich, powerful and spiritually evolved, the world would never allow you to be more than you could be because you are born a woman. One could be born poor in financial terms and that was a burden that buried generations under its weight before it could be shaken off, in some or good measure. Being born a girl-child though has no redemption in sight. No lottery or great entrepreneurial effort or streak of good-fortune could shake-off that absolute judgment.
The truth is liberating. While still quite young, this understanding at a fairly basic level that I am not and can never be perceived as being equal to any man, was fantastically liberating! It let me just be. It let me just be a young woman who no longer needed to carry the burden of proving she “can be equal”. And that was enough of me to breathe, strive and most importantly to give. Hamlet’s words, “I have that within which passes show..”, resonated silently and powerfully. It connected me to an ocean of empathy, creativity and nurturing that women are blessed with as a significant piece of that birth-defect!
It’s quite irrelevant why we are where we are or who caused this shift to happen. The great opportunity lies in the historical fact that the shift towards imbalance did happen and by that logic, yet another shift can also happen to take us back to balance, the natural state of Creation.
No answers need to be sought out. Only efforts need to be made, very mindfully, to work towards a balanced, equal, natural order. Its materially important that support be offered and leverages provided to enable women be equal and even the first citizens of the Universe, as the creators of life, nurtures of values and builders of character.
I seek out all who can support in every which way and those who need support. I reach out and will do so, as far as I can see because I will not be that matriarch who’s face appears as a specter to the girl-child of future generations who wants to know, as I once did, “Why did women and men remain silent and let us come to this?” Nor should you.
November 2006, London
It was about mid-night and as is the reality of a multitude of employees in the Global IT industry, I’d commenced yet another day at dawn, to sync-up with India, which is always ahead in time zones from its Western client-geographies and was about to wrap-up with a review call with teams and Management in the US.
My son, a little over 5 years of age, was in his tiny cot in a room that was an extension of my own by about 4 X 4 feet. Cozy, appropriate, quite typical of a One-two bed apartment in the Greater London area. As I started to clean-up and prepare for the morning, I felt my head-swimming and my legs giving way. I scrambled to my couch and passed-out long-enough to have a visitation from my grandfather in sparkling white attire with a surreal glow around his person. He’d left for his Heavenly Abode about ten years ago and even in that state of “zoning-out”, for want of a better comprehension of what it was, my whole being felt this great fear deep within that it was time for me to join him in the Afterlife. I would die and have to leave my child behind! That single gut-wrenching fear, snapped-me out of “the zone” and I reached for my cell-phone and rang the neighborhood Cab-stand that I walked past every day at least twice, responding to their greetings and making small talk. They’d always hoped I’d use their service and I’d always walked right past them to the Tube-station down the High-street. I never took a cab except for the airport. No one does!
That night I called from a dark, desperate, terrified place and someone responded. The man on the phone gave me clear instructions to stay on the call, to stay awake, to unlock the door and to wait. “I’m on my way..I’m right there..”, he spoke in his Pakistani-Punjabi-British assuring voice. Unable to get myself up, I slid down the stairs and unlocked the door. The man arrived and started to help me up to get me into the car and to hospital. I was mumbling, crying that my child is alone and I can’t leave him and I neither heard what he said nor processed what he was doing. It was as though I’d turned to Lead and my insides were headed to Heaven but my body couldn’t follow…..my child was alone.
This comforting stranger rushed up, gathered my little boy in his arms, managed to scoop me up and into the back seat of the cab where I passed-out again…but I could now hear my son’s crying and his fear. I could hear it within the deepest layers of my being. I was being separated from him and I was in my state of deep sleep, but fighting to wake-up.
When I came to my senses it was morning. My son was fine and fast asleep, my husband had been on calls with the hospital, my friend had been orchestrating various affairs…so I heard the nurse tell me. I managed to get myself up, determined to find my child and leave for home instantly. As I peered through the curtains of the ER cubicle that I’d been in, felt the blood warm-up inside my veins and start to flow. My heart, like our old car that would suddenly splutter and respond to the ignition, after playing dead for longest time, was beating loudly. I have no recall of hearing it thumping quite as purposefully ever before that moment. My fervent gaze found that precious sight it was yearning for. My child. I saw my child fast asleep in the lap of a bearded man.
I could not have recognized this very person had I walked past him on the street. He was just another stranger. Yet in that moment I knew him. I knew who he was and I knew his soul and spirit. He was a Messiah who’d answered a strangers call and left his warm Dispatcher’s Room and brought me to the Emergency Room of the hospital. He had called three numbers that were the most dialled recent numbers on my phone, including an overseas one, to contact my family. He hadn’t done that and left. He could have and most people would have. Instead, all night, he sat outside my cubicle, on a plastic chair, being comforting sentinel and family, to a little-boy who was even in his sleep clinging on to his collar, just as he would have to his father’s, for security. It’s as if he knew this stranger was not a stranger.
As time days went by, I was questioned by family and friends as to why I didn’t dial 911?! I didn’t have an answer then and I don’t have one, 10 years on. I dialled the first number on my cell phone’s Contacts list. C for Cab. Perhaps, my survival instincts trusted the kind-faced strangers and their proximity more than it did an emergency service. Maybe my maternal instincts chose to place faith in people who took a moment to nod graciously as we, mother and son, rushed between day-care and office. I had never looked them in the eye or stopped to speak. We simply wished each other in passing with a nod of heads and a courtesy greeting.
Perhaps this or possibly, that. I can’t really say. I ran that scenario over in my head like what felt like a million times over, as years rolled on. Without the slightest sliver of doubt, I knew, that on that mystical night, I had been guided by a powerful Force into the safest hands. On that night when I felt myself being taken away from my child and into a world beyond the living, the kindness of a stranger, brought me back to our child and life.
The kindness of a stranger in a strange land; Heaven is a place on Earth.
As the name suggests, this craft is of French-origin and has become a fine addition to the Indian repertoire. Petit point or quite literally, small point, has the fine needlework associated with fabulous European Linen and tapestries due to the ability to use tiny stitches that come together to create complex patterns.
Bangles! The chief and most ubiquitous of all ornaments, is considered the most auspicious by the women of India. These are associated with married life, fertility, celebration and prosperity. Each region has its own special style and the quest for the most aesthetic and beautiful bangle has never ceased in a few thousands of years.
The Dancing Lady of Mohenjo Daro included. Dating back about 500 years, the most affordable substance has been Lac as its inexpensive, possible to mold and can be adorned with all sorts of embellishments, beads, colourful cut-glass, mirrors etc.
Craftspersons painstakingly, piece by piece, make the lac bangles using a hand-crafted technique. The colour, glitter and drama is amazing!
Traditionally, till just a few years ago, the bangle seller would have his weekly planned itinerary for visits to his clients homes. He would carry all, quite literally, his whole inventory of bangles, set-his large sack down and commence choosing the right sizes for every hand, and replacing the old bangles with the new ones. The ladies of the house chose what they liked and he helped them slip these off and on, as does a trusted confidant or fashion advisor today!
We now buy online and don’t quite know who made the accessories we so intimately wear nor how or where they come from. CraftsBazaar offers the platform for us to know more about the products we choose, what region and craft they originate from and what stories they carry with them.
Isn’t progress all about knowing better and connecting more? With the internet, wireless technology and cell-phones becoming increasingly available to rural areas, that’s all possible now.
Maheshwar, along the banks of the softly flowing Narmada, located in Madhya Pradesh is known for the legends of Ahilya Bai Holkar, the Saharaarjuna Temple and….the Maheshwari!
The Maheshwari saree reigns amidst the variety of handloom sarees in India for its effervescent, luminous, vapour-like feel and vibrant colours.
This light, breezy and iridescent fabric has the rare combination of being earthy while also feeling luxurious due to its lightness of being and the sheen reflected by the file silken threads. Exquisite curtains, table-linen and apparel are now highly sought-after.
With the ubiquitous and continuously expanding wireless networks, cell-phones in most hands, ATMs and e-payment facilities, anyone can now search using marketplaces, and source directly from the weavers or small, niche suppliers. The customer benefits from getting access to a wide range, good-quality and better choice. The weaver is able to maintain quality and provide a customer the product each wants, in their choice of colours combinations. The pride in the process of conceiving, creating and the joy in connecting with the customer and knowing their products are in demand, their crafts is appreciated..that is priceless.
The collection below comes from Master-weavers in Maheshwar. Stunning colour combinations in clashing shades. Simply beautiful.
Shiva and Shakti, the ultimate power-couple, the great combined force, the celebrated husband and wife who married for love, in the face of parental disappointment, from the land of the Sindu River and its ancient culture, Hinduism.
Every year, in the last week of February or the first week of March, predicated upon the date of the Lunar Calendar, which is not a fixed 365 days like the Solar Calendar, the Hindus from India, celebrate Mahashivaratri or the Great Night of Shiva. Its a time that is marked by solemn introspection, a vigil in a wakeful, mindful state, to identify and vanquish the negative within us each as individuals.
Kashmiris celebrate this night as the Wedding Anniversary of Shiva and Shakti or Shiv-Parvati, the cosmic union that is the stuff of legend, mythology, faith or fact, depending on reader-response. As is the case with all rituals and festivals, food is omni-present, quite like Divinity! Every family cooks the ritual meal with a menu that is specific to their family tradition and this is generally followed quite strictly.
However, what is common to all Kashmiri people, irrespective of denomination and ethnicity, is the delicious, pure, abundance of the fruits and spices of Jammu and Kashmir that are unique in that these are, for the most part, dried and non-perishable to offer options for the winter months when the Himalayan people of the valley of Kashmir, were cloistered-in, with no access to the plains and warmer climates where vegetables and fruits could be sourced from.
Tomatoes, apples, bottle-gourd, eggplant, apricots, figs and even ginger and spices that are generally used fresh by most Indians, were sun-dried through the summer months and ground into powder for ease of use. Even fish was dried! Below are some images of these delicacies. These are now delicacies because in times of abundance, when all produce is available across all seasons, when supermarkets and home-delivery are the norm, these foods from the “good-old-days” are now fervently sought-out by yearning hearts with mouth-watering memories!
Shiv-Parvati would be pleased with this innate appreciation for ones roots and a respect for ones origins. Divinity is pleased by simplicity. Or so I imagine…
All these products are available worldwide at www.craftsbazaar.com. Enjoy.
Prior to the advent of Cinema and worlds largest film fraternity, Bollywood, Tollywood, Mollywood and all of the other wonderful regional Indian cinema, entertainment was primarily offered through Story-telling. Ballad-singing troupes that travelled from village to village, the Ram Lila, a dance-drama that enacts the Ramayana or folk-dancing on seasonal festivals, puppets-shows and eventually in the 1900s the Bioscope. The Bioscope, was an old camera where the slides were changed cyclically, in sync with, relevant music to give the solitary viewer who peered down the lens, a motion picture experience. How far we’ve come in the span of just a few decades!
In the 16th Century, the Vijayanagara Empire, flourished in the Southern states of India, its rulers were some of the greatest patrons of the arts and crafts. During their reign, Tolubommalata, or the Leather Puppet Theatre, became very popular and with time, one part of that terrain came to be known as the state of Andhra Pradesh and this performing art, survived as a part of cultural heritage.
Puppet-shows need..puppets! Puppets need craftspersons that can use whatever materials are locally available to make attractive puppets that are capable of great stage presence!
People and puppets were a seamless extension of one-another. The puppet was the physical representation of the human form and relied on the human, to lend it a voice. A rather unique art, that to this day fascinates and draws a large crowd of audiences, whenever its being performed.
These puppets, the size of human beings were made from translucent goat skin, with human-sized cut-outs and painted in attractive, bold and bright colors with perforations added in, for light to pass through. The artisans were fishermen and farmers, originally from Maharashtra, a Western State, prior to their migration to Andhra Pradesh.
The popular themes, for the Puppet Theatre, were episodes from the epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the two ancient Indian epics that captured the imagination of the masses. At the very beginning of the show is marked by the entry of the Ganesha puppet whose blessings are sought for a smooth performance. The chariots and horses and jokers are introduced for an effective performance besides the main characters. These puppet figures were about 3 to 6 feet high, quite like the human form and proportionately made, with stunning painted details on both sides to offer a great viewing experience!
A large white cloth made for the background screen and a naked light bulb provided the right projection for effect and in its absence? Well… there were always lamps lit by oil!!
This craft of making Leather-puppets continues and has since been extended to making product suited to contemporary life. Lamps, lanterns, baskets and items for home decor.
These products are available online at www.craftsbazaar.com
The East and the West, the Orient and Occident, North and South…opposites, contrasts and actually, quite confluent! Par example..Food. Never mind the exotic profusion of aromatic spices on the one end of the spectrum and the subtle aromas and restrained use of herbs on the other. Never mind the conjugated platter with every kind of food group known to mankind, carbs, proteins, dairy, fats and sugars, on one plate, all at one time, in one meal and the sophisticated design and minimalist approach of the other, with one portion being central and the supporting cast being limited to a side dish or two….never mind the minor variations (!) but let’s instead consider the bigger picture for a moment.
Case in point..The Tandoor, the clay oven of the Indian habitat and the Bbq, the grill of the West. The Indians fire-up the tandoor through the winter months…its a great substitute for central-heating, while, incidentally, also cooking ones food! The West enjoys Bbqs in the Summer. A great way for family and friends to meet and share relaxed times.
Captured below is the 2-hour long journey of the freshly chopped veggies, ie, corn, potatoes, peppers, onions, cauliflowers, mushrooms and the freshly “dead” chicken drumsticks, all marinated in freshly ground spices from the Spice-platter below. 2 hours from chopping, marinating, piling onto skewers and then, finishing-off on a grill! Yes, a grill..all set to be fired-up with ready to heat coals on a no-fuss “Western” Grill.
No fuss with a clay-tandoor, no great skill required, no burns acquired…simple, hassle-free Grill but with all the exotic range of spices and aromas that infuse the air with a healthy appetite. East meets West beautifully, in harmony, thank you very much!
At CraftsBazaar, as we work to assimilate the diversity of the multitudes and teaming masses, we consciously celebrate the natural uniqueness that comes from a deep-rooted connection to ones origins. People are who they are because of where they come from and what they experience in that most personal journey as they arrive at Today. There is always a fusion of the past and present, of tradition and innovation. Tandoori BBQ!!
For the faces and the souls..we care to know nothing of the polarities of directions, landmasses and cultures. We only know of the sheer joy and good fun had through the process of making something happen collaboratively and the simple abundance and warmth of sharing the meal post-production! We embrace all heritage, all diversity and all beginnings while we work to leverage technology to include those who as yet remain outside the ambit of education, employment and healthcare.
No barriers of age, ability, class or kind…only a group of people, with no common past history, pursuing a common passion, working towards the promise of tomorrow, striving to make a difference…A Team.
when we were carefree, playful and considerate. when we loved our stuffed companion even when its button-eyes fell off and its tail was worn out at the seams. when it became limp and wasn’t so cushion-soft anymore…because it was our playmate, our companion.
horses, elephants, teddy-bears, camels, stars…learning through the five senses is still the best way of all.
we can simply choose to return to the simple abundance of childhood. these stuffed animals are made by doting, hard-working hands in communities that survive using their skills are handicrafts. they are colourful, vibrant actually and always, but always, happy, happy, happy!
check it out at http://www.craftsbazaar.com.