Dahod














Dahod has remained an important center from the time of the Paramaras through the Mughal era, when Emperors Akbar and Jahangir would go elephant hunting  and trapping in the dense forests of Dahod, to the time of the British Raj. In post- independence India, Dahod has come to be known for its extreme climatic conditions and poverty, as the jungles have nearly disappeared. Agriculture, the main source of income for the Bhil, is not always a reliable source due to adverse climatic condition. Dahod has experienced intense periods of drought and famine in recent times leading to death, and migration of the Bhil, the original tribal inhabitantas of the area.

Several organisations are helping the local population sustain themselves by translating their traditional craft techniques into revenue generating means. These crafts include articles by straining the colourful beads into laces for mobile, spectacle and pencil pouches, small cotton bags, wall hangings. Though the technique of beadwork may appear simple it is very taxing to the eye.

The other is the quintessential bamboowork. Now, articles made out of bamboo are used not only for their durability, strength or economy, but also for their decorative quality. These modern age products are even exported to the UK and other European countries, other than being largely sold through exhibitions in India. 

The craftsmen purchase the bamboo form the 'pitha', paying Rs. 25 -30 for a ten to twelve feet bamboo. The bamboo is brought from Mumbai and nearby areas. The greener the bamboo the easier and more supple it is to craft items out of. The Bhil judge the bamboo from its appearance putting their years of experience to application. If the bamboo turns out to be rotten from inside then it has to be thrown away. Each bamboo can make up to five to six small baskets or pen stands. The bamboo is skinned, and with the help of sharp, broad knife-like instruments, it is cut thirty two times into strips till wafer-thin strips are obtained. Then these strips are woven into the desired product. There are two variations of weaving: one, where the bamboo strips are woven into warp and weft, like a fabric. 
These baskets, amongst many other articles made out of bamboo have beaded items stuck on them to increase their appeal.

The other crafts stuffing and quilting are minor crafts. Stuffing of birds and animals made out of old or new colorful fabric is a craft commonly practiced in the whole of Gujarat for making hangings for adorning the house. This craft has been improvised upon and presented to the consumer with an attractive admixture of bead worked flowers.

In stuffing, the stencil of a parrot or elephant is taken and placed on fold of the fabric and cut. The parrot is the only form that is kept on the bias, i.e. at a forty-five degree angle, on the cloth. This facilitates the next step, which is stitching. Stitching is generally done on the edges of the form on a sewing machine. Once the animal is stitched the form is taken inside out and fine saw dust is tightly filled into the form, trying not to leave any air gap. Then, the small opening through which the sawdust was filled is hand stitched to close the form completely. Seven or nine such animal forms are stitched together vertically in a string into simple yet ornate hangings, a necessity of every Gujarati household.

In quilting, the cotton printed cloth is purchased from Dahod or Ahmedabad markets, and cut into the desired shape. Then foam is placed in between two such shapes. These three layers are then stitched on the sewing machine with diagonal lines running all over them. After the stitching the piping is cut and stitched on the machine again. There is finally embellishment with beads on the edges or the borders to lend an appeal to the quilted tablemats, telephone mats, cushion covers.

 In my visits to the haats at Limbdi, Limkheda and Dahod I saw the crafts catering solely to the local people. These were pottery making and sesame comb making. The haats are held once every week at these places and the sellers move from one haat to the other to ensue income throughout the week.           

I met a man selling beautiful wooden combs. On questioning him I was told by him that these combs are made out wood from the sesame tree. He gets the wood from jungles near his village, and then he cuts and processes the wood. He claimed that twenty processes need to be carried out before the sesame combs are finally ready to be sold. These processes include the cutting of the wood into the right size for the combs, and sharpening for getting the teeth of the comb, polishing the comb. As the combs were selling for five rupees each I asked him how much does he actually earn, he said he hardly earns anything as with the increase of sale of cheap and durable plastic combs hardly anybody bothers to buy his combs. Also, with the decrease in jungles procurement of wood is a very difficult task. As he is a craftsman he does not know of any other mean of earning money and manages to feed his family of five somehow – he was not able to state exactly how!

I was struck by the manner in which these crafts had improved the lifestyles of the Bhil. The Bhil women decide where and how to spend their income. They are concentrating more on their children’s education and health and sanitation issues. 

With the exposure to city life, education, science and technology, and television, there is a debate between the older and younger generations concerning the acceptance and practice of their ancient beliefs and rituals. After experiencing the essentially tribal world's foray into the present world reaching high levels of technological advancements, I returned to my schedule of chasing time. The delicate balance between the two worlds may not hold for long, before one overtakes the other. Only time will tell which world wins!