Volume 51 Number 4, June 2000
The Arts of Kutch (Reprint 2004)
|Specifications:||148 pages, 131 illustrations|
|Dimensions:||324 x 241 mm|
The former princely state of Kutch in northwestern Gujarat has a long, colourful history of art patronage. Kutch made a supreme contribution to medieval Indian culture – its temple architecture dates from the late 9th to the mid-10th century ce, and its 12th and early 13th century mosques at Bhadreshwar are the oldest in all of India. From the mid-18th century until the early 20th, this “place apart” from the rest of India pursued a different and extraordinary course in both art and architecture. The Aina Mahal and Prag Mahal palaces at Bhuj, discussed here in three articles, display beautiful rooms and are now museums. Of the varied arts and crafts of Kutch, the textiles are deservedly famous, and represent the best known artistic output. Its painting, woodcarving, and silverwork are amongst some of the other equally significant Kutch productions.
A volume devoted solely to the various arts of Kutch represents a novel publishing enterprise, and the scholars who have contributed here offer authoritative insights into this singularly fascinating region.
Christopher W. London is an architectural historian and building preservationist. He guest edited Architecture in Victorian and Edwardian India for Marg in 1994.
Christopher W. London
Temples in Kutch: Symphony in Stone
Bhadreshwar and the Architecture of the Early Muslim Settlers
A Glorious Heritage: Maharao Lakhpatji and the Aina Mahal
Pramod J. Jethi and Christopher W. London
The Aina Mahal: An Early Example of “Europeanerie”
The Prag Mahal and Henry St Clair Wilkins’ Architecture
Christopher W. London
Painting in Kutch: Surprises and Delight
Domestic Wood-Carvings of Kutch: Cross-Cultural Influences
Textiles in Kutch
Embroidery: A Woman’s History of Kutch
Kutchi Silver: A Meeting of East and West
Wynyard R.T. Wilkinson and Mary-Louise Hawkins
Most writing on Kutch celebrates the uniqueness born out of its isolation; Kutch’s openness to cross-cultural influence has seldom been examined. From the late twelfth through to the twentieth century, the arts of Kutch exhibit a fascinating manifestation of this influence. The results are infinite combinations of colours in various media with a complexity of manufacturing techniques. The articles describe a broad range of artistic and architectural production.
The Kutch territory of Gujarat State possesses temples of two periods, the earlier were built when the Sama dynasty ruled from late ninth century to 950 CE. These are in Maha-Gurjara style that prevailed in lower Rajasthan and upper Gujarat.The Sama buildings are located at Majal, Kanthkot, Kerakot, and Kotai. Those of the succeeding period, when Kutch became part of the Solanki kingdom, are in Maru-Gurjara style. These are at Bhadresvara (Bhadesvara; transitional style), Manjal (Vadi Medi), and Bhadresvara (Jain temple). The temples at Kerakot and Kotai, though partly ruined, are very elegantly shaped as well as well-decorated. They are among the few surviving notable buildings of their age.
In the architecture of Muslims in India, the role of the maritime trading settlers in the coastal regions is now beginning to be recognized. The planning of their buildings is affiliated with the Arab lands of Syria and North Africa but is combined with local vernacular traditions for the structural components, rather than being designed to stand out as monuments of conquest. The earliest dated Islamic building in India, the shrine of Ibrahim at Bhadreshwar, built in 1159, and two nearby 12th century mosques are the predecessors of many others at Junagadh, Calicut, Kayalpatnam and Madura all of which display this fusion of architectural traditions.
The Aina Mahal palace complex, Bhuj, was built in about 1750 for Lakhpatji, Rao of Kutch (1707-61). The palace's two most unusual features are its very early use in India of Western design elements and objects in its decoration, and its fountain room, the Fuvara Mahal.
The Aina Mahal, built at Bhuj in the mid-18th century, is a unique example of the Indian taste for Europe, or "Europeanerie". The palace was the result of an inspired working relationship between the patron (Maharao Lakho) and the artist (Ramsingh Malam). The article focuses on the decorative devices in the palace, particularly in the royal bed chamber (Hira Mahal). Besides the European mirror - which is the central decorative element and gives the palace its name - other significant western elements of the Aina Mahal are chandeliers, pictures and prints, mechanical clocks, glassware, and ceramic.
The Prag Mahal at Bhuj was built between 1865-76 by the British architect Henry St. Clair Wilkins, R.E. (1828-96) in the Italian Gothic style. It was built for Maharao Pragmal II, G.C.S.I., (1838-76) for whom the palace is named.
Rao Lakhpatji (1741-60) played a pivotal role in the growth and development of painting in Kutch. Paintings in Kutch belong to two groups: the sub-royal paintings of darbar scenes, processionals, miniatures, and portraits, all with an element of formality; and the landscape paintings which are invested with so much warmth. The later group was influenced by the European prints and engravings which came into Kutch through the sailor and craftsman Ramsingh Malam in the second quarter of the 18th century. Initially the European prints led to copies of the European cityscapes, later, the landscapes included views of the towns and topography of the region itself.
The theme of the article is the genre of shallow geometric relief work popular in the villages of northern Kutch, especially the work of the Vardha community. Detailed are the working techniques, forms, types, patterns, motifs, and designs of the wood carvings. The article also considers comparative material from related crafts of the Kutch region, other regions of the Thar Desert, and cross-cultural influences.
The major textile crafts of the settled areas of Kutch are bandhani (tie-dye) and block-printing, including the resist-dyed and printed ajrakh. Textile production is dominated by the Khatri community of professional dyers and printers. The important articles produced by the tie-dyeing technique (bandhani and ikat) are women's veils (odhnis), dresses (aabha), wedding garments, and mashru fabrics. Ajrakhs are used by men as turbans, shawls, and lungis, and by women as odhnis and in the household.
Much more than practical wealth, the myriad styles of folk embroideries of Kutch present a textured map of regions and ethnic groups. Styles express cultural connections and illustrate the indigenous division of Kutch into four subregions: Garada in the west, Banni and Pachham in the north, the heart of Kutch, and Vaagad in the east. Garada and Banni-Pachham regional styles: paako and khaarek, muko, haramji, nen and khambiri, demonstrate cultural connections to Sindh. Zardozi and aari embroideries of the heart of Kutch established an aesthetic that deeply influenced folk styles of the region. The bold chain stitch and mirror work of Vaagad connect this region to neighbouring Banaskantha and Saurashtra. Ethnic styles of Rabaris, Mutavas and Jats express the more isolated lifestyles of these communities.
With its sensuous forms and intricate ornaments, Kutchi silverwork has enormous appeal. These silvers invariably have a decorative motif drawn from nature. Discussed are the methods of production, influences, and diffusion of this craft in the 19th century. The most significant stylistic source for 19th century Kutch silver are Dutch prototypes which were probably introduced to India by Ramsingh Malam. Other great influences were the Portuguese and Mughal motifs. Kutchi silver enjoyed an unprecedented diffusion during the second half of the 19th century, mainly because of the Great Crystal Exhibition of 1851, the opening of the Suez canal in 1869 which brought Europe and Asia closer together, the royal patrons of Kutch, and the Indian Pavilion at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878.