The dolls serve as souvenirs. Jhabua dolls are gifted to the bride in several parts of the country. The uses are decorative and they serve as a reliable source of income to the craftsmen all year round. The dolls closely resemble the features of tribal living all across the subcontinent, in a way the tribes identify themselves through this craft. It also acts as an informative object for the people living in urban areas, who have never experienced a tribal culture. For students in school or universities, these dolls are an apt tool to educate the youth about intangible heritage across Indian subcontinent. Many ancient tribes are relocating themselves to urban areas and it is likely that many of the tribes will become extinct if proper steps are not taken to document and preserver this unique heritage of India.
Dolls have always been a significant part of Human lives, a companion in childhood and a souvenir once we grow old. Jhabua dolls are an insight into the rural lives of the tribes. This aspect is also a reason for why the dolls are not much of a rave in the local markets. The dolls depict tribal people in their ethnic attire. These are exported or sold in handicraft bazaars or emporiums. The women who make the dolls undergo a training of six months to master the craft. To prove the strength of the dolls, they are thrashed on the floor in front of the customer. The material used for Jhabua doll making is a recycled cloth; hence the craft process involves a sustainable process.
Myths & Legends
The tribes living in Jhabua area have mastered several crafts. It is believed that after the development of urban areas, where people from various regions started gathering in cities; the tribes travelled all the way to cities to sell their unique products, the products included bamboo products, pottery, paintings etc. The people grew curious about the tribal living, citing this; the tribes started making these fabric dolls to represent themselves. The craft was called Adivasi Gudiya Shilp and gained recognition across the world.
Cloth dolls are believed to have been in existence for as long as cloth itself. Excavations have revealed that cloth dolls were made in ancient Egypt. The early existence and survival of the dolls can be attributed to the fact that scrap cloth is the easiest of all materials to source. Cloth is also easily workable and the tools required are not hard to find too. For children, the cloth dolls would also feel soft in their hands as compared to other materials.
Dolls act as cultural ambassadors reflecting 5,000 years of Indian civilization. The Indian people have a very special affection for dolls. They are part of a tradition Indians have grown up with. At one time dolls were given away as wedding presents to the child bride. In Jhabua, the craft has been revived during the early 60s by organisations to help the tribals earn a living. The work is spreading fast depending on the demand. Many villages like Bani, Meghnagar, Ranapur, Fulmalgao are blossoming centers for doll-making. The dolls depicting the lives of all the tribes are made with fabric scrap and easily available inexpensive materials.
The Jhabua dolls are made in many sizes and sometimes even life-size dolls are made on order. The sizes range from 2 ft to 5ft. The body is made of stuffed cloth and the skin color is usually painted in shades of brown. The expressions and features are painted onto the dolls.
With the rise in the popularity of the idea, the number of people joining in to work has increased but the demand has been mellow. It is one of the few crafts which are the sole source of income to these settling tribes, therefore and deplete in market demand affects adversely to their livelihood. The craft seeks new innovations and forms to suit contemporary uses. The use of these dolls in various other sectors such as education and culture curation should also be promoted.