Thirubuvanam, Tamil Nadu, India...
Charma karya seeps into various traditional as well as contemporary usages closely depending upon the practicalities of geography and society.
~ Water storage pouches of leather are a regional specialty. These pouches keep water cool and they are easy to carry around, they are also highly durable. Several nomadic tribes or the families involved in agriculture utilize these pouches to store water.
~ Harnesses for camels and horses are made through leather. Chalmadto is the regional name for a saddle, Thada is the belt, Tung is the necklace and Chadda is the leather rope; these products are in high demand as many families are involved in livestock rearing.
~ All the men and women in this region prefer handcrafted leather footwear popularly called as Mojari or Pagrakha. The leather piece is cut into the right shape for sole and the upper part of the footwear with a sharp knife; these two parts are then glued together with handmade glue. To add strength, the assembly is then stitched with cotton or a leather thread. The main characteristics of the footwear of this region are the punch work and embroidery done on the leather. Varolo, a traditional bridal footwear is nurtured through this craft
~ Toran is a decorative door hanging which has a ritualistic importance is also made through this craft, intricately decorated with punch work and embroidery; this can be seen in majority of houses in the countryside of Kutch.
~ Beejano is a hand fan, the handle of which is made with wood and the rest of the body is made of leather with punch work and embroidery on the edges. Other objects like mirror frames, cell phone covers, bags, purse, wallets, stationary items, lamp shades and other decorative items are also crafted by artisans.
For communities in Hodka, Bhirandiyaro, Dhordo, Sumarasar and many other villages in Kutch, this craft is an important supplement to the income from farming. Craftsmen have also moved onto newer methodologies and started using sewing machines to assemble the pieces together, thereby adding efficiency to the traditional craft. While the men are involved in the processes of cutting, punching, shaping and joining of the leather pieces, the women add the necessary colorful embellishment to the leather with embroidery in contrasting colored threads.
Leather is a by-product of meat industry; hence the leather from animal carcasses is utilized in this craft, which would have otherwise rot in garbage bins. As India is a country with largest livestock population, the deaths of ruminants all through the year produce huge amount leather, which is then used in making the making of sophisticated artifacts.
History of Leather
The use of the skins from various animals by men to guard themselves from severe colds, precipitation and animal attacks dates back to prehistoric era, some 500,000 years ago. It was later, when men started procuring animal skins and devised a way to prevent the skin from rotting by stretching them out under the sun to be dried. Some animal fluids were found which would soften the skins if rubbed into the pores. Several years later, acidic substances like tannic acid were discovered in some parts of the trees, it was used to produce leather from raw animal skins. Skins were soaked into the tanning solutions for couple of years. The leather became a necessity; it was utilized for footwear, storage container, clothes etc. The method of Tanning has advanced tremendously since the early days and now almost any desired property can be obtained by the use of appropriate chemicals and processes.
History of Leather craft in India
Leather craft industry occupies a place of prominence in India. The tradition of leather craft dates back as early as the Indus valley civilization, there have been several references in ancient texts about the use of animal skin. The age old tradition of leather craft in India is proved by ancient sages and ascetics, who were seen and depicted as sitting on deerskin for meditation. In the past, leather was not only used in making clothes and footwear but also in making caps, bags, saddles, armor etc. India is famous worldwide for its leather products. In the rural areas, hide from cattle and camel is locally cured and after tanning, it is used to make a variety of essential products. Different regions of India are birth places of different leather crafts. The modern day leather craft in India has become a big industry and caters not only to local needs but also the offshore market.
History of Leather craft in Kutch
Kutch has witnessed several variations in geographical conditions since ancient times and it has transformed the Kutch terrain into a unique landscape. The Indus river of Sindh is believed to have flown from this land, but then changed its course after earthquakes. Providing a connection between Persian kingdoms and Indian Subcontinent, Kutch has been a major trade route. Aligned near coastline, with Rann desert on the North, the virtual isolation had a constructive impact on the creativity of people. Several ethnic tribes such as Marwari Meghwals, Rabaris, Maldhari Muslims, Jats settled in this land and cultivated a vivid culture. Fakirani Muslim Jats migrated from Halab region of Iran some 500 years ago in search of new grazing lands, these migrants took to cattle and camel breeding which is the main source of leather in this region. Rabaris are the nomadic tribes, who migrated from Thar Desert in search for new lands. Rabaris roam the land for nine months in search for fodder to feed their livestock. As all the tribes are involved in livestock rearing, they contribute to Banni grasslands huge livestock population which outnumbers the human population five to one. Abundance of leather and need for products with varying utility helped in the evolution of leather craft in this region.
The craftsmen either leave the leather in its natural color or dye it with stainers in shades of brown or bright colors like yellows, blues and reds. Using punches of a range of shapes and sizes; from geometrics like circles, triangles, squares, ovals and rectangles, to shapes like leaf, heart, moon and stars, the craftsmen make holes in the leather for a reverse appliqué like technique. With carefully composed, concentric or linear geometrical patterns, the artists play with colors as they place fabric pieces in bright hues under punched holes in leather. Rubber glue keeps the fabric bits with leather and then a backing is given to the composition, usually with colorful block printed cotton which is also handmade in Kutch. Working with simple punches and hammers, an amazing variety of geometric patterns are created by the craftsmen, giving the surface a playful, vibrant character, not generally associated with the ruggedness of thick leather.
With a little less pressure on the same punches, sometimes the craftsmen just give a low relief to the surface, for textured patterns. As the leather weathers, the punch engraved relief area becomes darker and appears like the tattoos. It is one of the many instances where expressions of beliefs and expressions for livelihood merge at the juncture of creativity.
The pieces of leather are hand stitched by passing thick thread through small slits made with a stitching awl. Craftsmen have also started using sewing machines to assemble the pieces together, thereby adding efficiency to the traditional craft.
One of the major problems in the leather craft is the disposal of animal carcasses. The communities who remove and flay dead animals are called Bhambi. They are extremely poor with facilities for transporting carcasses or disposing the animal remains after the skin is removed. As a result, skins and hides often get damaged in transport, while unusable animal waste is left to rot.
The younger generations are slowly drifting away from the craft for more lucrative and less time-consuming jobs. The inflow of tourists has also decreased post the earthquake which has lead to a fall in sales.
Charmakarya process is quite elaborate. The tanning of the hide contains 70 steps with subsequent steps concerned with the making of artifacts. Leather is a versatile material which can be customized as per the needs and the craftsmen of Kutch have communicated with this material’s properties efficiently.
– Leather hides: These are wet salted hides of certain ruminants, sourced from Bhuj, Bhavnagar, Rajkot, Ahmedabad and Chennai.
– Okhai baavad: It is the locally available species of Acacia Arabica with yellow flowers; indigenous tanning materials are obtained from this tree.
– Liming mixture: Sodium sulphide, slaked lime and water are used as liming mixture; they help in complete removal of hairs and produce changes in skin collagen, the skin collagen swells and results in more open structure of leather.
– Deliming solution: Ammonium sulphide, ammonium chloride, water constitute the deliming solution. This makes leather structure to become more open, the remaining impurities is also removed through deliming.
– Castor oil: Castor oil is derived from Castor seeds, it can be colorless or pale yellow with very mild odor or taste. It is considered best for leather treatment; it elevates the longevity of leather products.
– Dori: To impart strength in leather joints, double twisted cotton twine is used for sewing usually waxed after being dipped into the wax previously.
– Leather ribbons: Very thin and narrow leather threads, either obtained as by-products from leather cutting or intentionally cut, are used in various decorative patterns; these are also used to form braids, borders, straps etc.
– Chikni maati: It is local name for the mud from the pond beds or river banks which is used as adhesive. This is thinner than dendrite. It does not harden the edges like dendrite solution and makes the leather, easier to be sewn.
– Chemical dyes: These are chemically derived dyes. After the application on leather, the solvent either evaporates or gets absorbed and the color penetrates into the leather exuding the desired color.
– Embroidery threads: Zari(gold/silver plastic), Torni(cotton ply yarn), Fhumka(pompoms) are the major embroidery threads.
– Mirror: Mirrors are utilized for detailed inlay work, for decorative purposes small pieces of mirrors are inlaid in certain products. For the products such as hand mirrors or wall hanging mirrors, comparatively large pieces of mirror are inlaid between two layers of leather.
Leather making has raised serious environmental issues, from the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides to the problem concerning disposal of organic wastes at tanneries. The leather industry is also gradually polluting underground water of several regions across the country. The chromium compounds, sulphides, ammonium salts involved in tanning process are known to be responsible to land, water, air pollution. 20 to 40 tonne of water is wasted for one tone of leather production in tanneries.
Even traditional Charma Karya process involves wastes that can substantially harm the environment, as the leather sourced is more or less derived through chemical processes. But artisans are now drifting towards the artificial alternatives to leather, like Rexine. Rexine is environmentally friendly and feels like leather. The process of embroidery and punch work, more or less remains the same.
– Kol: Tool made from buffalo horn which is used as a container to pour water into the skin bag while processing leather
– Krapli: A marking knife with a narrow, slightly convex blade and a small handle. These blades are sharpened on both sides. The craftsmen use it to mark lines by pressing it onto the leather.
– Kagaj na farmo: Paper templates which are standardized sizes for the different leather objects.
– Karpa: A scraper which has a semicircular iron blade. The edge is straight and only slightly sharpened. The blade is fixed in a cylindrical wooden handle. This is used to treat the surface of the leather.
– Rapi: A scraping knife with a long trapezoid blade in a straight edge leading to a wooden handle. It is sharpened on both sides to a keen edge. The rapi is used to both cut and scrape off leather.
– Moti aur nanhi arhi: Large and small awls which consist of iron pins fixed to a cylindrical wooden handle. Its point is hammered flat and the edge is sharpened to a slightly convex shape. These are used to pierce the holes in the seams. There are 4-5 types of arhis depending on the thickness of the leather and the threads or doras in use.
– Sui: Common needle with a large eye threaded with a string.
– Punches: Used to make holes and patterns on the leather articles. They come in various shapes like stars, diamonds, squares, rectangles, circles, flowers etc.
– Rampi: This is similar to the scraping tool except that the blade is not sharpened so as to not cut the leather.
– Hathodi: Hammer with a short wooden handle.
– Mogri: Iron beetle which is a tapering cylinder with a broad head made of cast iron, used to treat leather and pound seams.
– Dhoka: Simple wooden cylinder with a flattened end. This wooden beetle is used to pound leather and used as a support while doing embroidery.
– Salari: Stone slab of fine crystalline sandstone used as a base or support.
– Kalbut: A stretching last in the shape of the shoe in the standard sizes. It is made from carved baval wood.
– Cutter or blade: Used to cut threads while doing embroidery.
– Wooden stick: A tool used for embroidery and also used while making torni.
Charma karya process is quite elaborate. The tanning of the hide contains 70 steps with subsequent steps concerned with the making of artifacts. Leather is a versatile material which can be customized as per the needs and the craftsmen of Kutch have communicated with this material’s properties efficiently.
The tanning process prevents putrefaction and imparts durability to the leather. It also makes it firm, supple and impervious. The people who convert raw hide into leather are known as ‘chamars’ in Indian society. The process of vegetable tanning done by the chamars is as follows:
Cleaning and drying
The fresh hides are first washed in plain water. The inner side of the hide is plastered with mud or salt and spread out flat. It is also sometimes held by pegs to prevent contraction. This is then dried and scraped with a blunt instrument to remove dirt particles. It is again spread flat to remove the creases and folds.
The liming process makes the hides swell to make it porous and permeable for the tanning solution. The hide is sprinkled with milk extracts of ‘aankda na phool’ and with a solution of water and salt. This is done once or twice in a day, for a period of 14 days. A goat hair brush is used to spread this solution on the hide or it is done by hand. This is then folded and immersed into a pit containing the mixture. The skin is usually taken out every day, aired for an hour and immersed again.
Removal of hair
After liming, the water is wrung out and the hide is spread on a smooth surfaced stone. The liming makes the hair fall off easily. The hairs are scraped off using a blunt knife. Hide is then soaked for 2-3 hours. The adherent flesh and fat on the inner side is then scraped clean with a sharp knife. This step takes one whole day. After this, the hide is then put in clean running water and the lime is washed away.
Treading is done for 3-5 hours a day, while rubbing with hand is done 4-5 times. After 2-4 days, the hide is taken out and the moisture is squeezed out or it is pressed in a draining table. The hide is again soaked in a fresh and stronger solution of tannin mixture for 2-3 days. This process is repeated 5-6 times.
Infiltration process / bag process
The hides are sown together to resemble the masak or the leather water bag. The tannin liquor is then poured into this bag, which is suspended on bamboo bars. This facilitates proper impregnation of the hide with tannin. The process is repeated several times after which it is done with the bag turned inside out. The hide is occasionally beaten to test if the tanning is complete. If it produces a hard sound, it indicates the process is complete but if the sound is soft then the tanning is unsatisfactory.
The leather bag is opened out and stretched for partially drying. It is then rolled up and trampled for some time before it is unrolled. This makes the leather compact, soft and supple.
The outer side of the leather is scraped, rubbed and scoured with a knife. This process helps in removal of creases and the marks of the folds.
Polishing and Graining
The leather is now dressed with oil, mostly vegetable oil. They apply it over the leather using a smooth edged instrument or a glass bottle.
Coloring and varnishing
The village cobblers use primitive methods of coloring leather. The ingredients used in the tanning mixture like pods and barks of the acacia plant impart a particular color to the leather. This is usually imperfect and non-glossy. Usage of synthetic dyes makes the dye penetrate into the leather with the dye solvent evaporated or absorbed. Some leathers are further processed by application of upper coat finish. The top coat attaches itself to the surface with elevating the durability of leather. The pigmented finish might be taken into account, containing various colors, resins, lacquers, oils or waxes.
The Mojadi is prepared in three different layers and then assembled together. The layers are stuck with the Maati until stitched, using leather. First the top cover is embroidered and stitched with the sole and then the top of the sole is stitched for finishing. Embroidery is done with various silver and colored threads based on guidelines made with the Rapi. Water is applied to relax the holes while embroidering. Two separate pieces of embroidery is done- one for the top of the shoe/Varolo and the other for the inner sole. The sizes are molded using the Kalbuts. Tornis or Fhumkas are attached for embellishment.
The craftsmen procure the raw materials as per the size of the mirrors. The leather is cut into required shapes and these pieces are then punched as per the design. The designs vary from artisan to artisan. Clothes of various colors are made into strips and stitched to the leather piece. A cardboard piece is then cut by the craftsman according to the shape of the leather piece with backing cloth. Cardboard piece is then glued together with the leather piece so that the mirror is sandwiched between them. Torni is stitched finally to give the structural strength and mirror is cleaned with kerosene
List of craftsmen.