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.
Myths & Legends
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.