Tourist influx at Rann of Kutch boosts livelihood of local handicraft artists
The tourism boom driven by the annual Rann Utsav being celebrated since 2005 has changed the financial landscape of the 25-odd villages in this barren salt pans of the Rann of Kutch. These barren villages bordering the Pakistani sand dunes on the West and the marshy coastal patches to the East leading to the town of Bhuj in Gujarat, were reduced to heaps of debris after the January 26, 2001 earthquake that left over 12,000 people dead and tens of thousands maimed.
And the steady rise in the number of tourists reflects the increasing economic well-being of these sparsely populated villages. In 2017, as many as 2.23 lakh tourists visited the Rann Utsav compared to 2.01 lakh in 2016, recording a decent 11% growth, according to data from the Gujarat Tourism. The festival, celebrated from November 1 till mid- February every year, has helped rejuvenate the nearby 25-odd tiny villages, mainly housing culturally rich semi-nomadic tribes who were hit hard after the deadly tremor.
But thanks to their arts, these villagers who are very good craftsmen, are a better lot today and make a decent living from selling their wares to the milling tourists. One such village is Nirona, known for its Rogan art and the copper bells. “We are thankful to the tourism department for organising the Rann Utsav, which has popularised our Rogan art globally and brought our village onto the world map,” Rogan artist Abdulgafar Khatri told PTI.
The Khatri family, comprising four brothers and several nephews, is the only one in the Nirona village that has kept this ancient traditional art form alive. Even when the family faced hard times, he said, they worked as labourers but did not give up on their art. “This art, believed to have originated in Persia some 300 years back and existing only in our village today, is passed on from generation to generation and we have kept it alive even through the hard times,” Khatri said. “Things started to improve after the Rann Utsav, which has brought in many tourists from across the country and the world to our non-descript village,” he said.
Even as they have trained outsiders on the art form, the family has kept the colour mixing a secret which, Khatri said, they will reveal to the world only after they get some recognition in the form of a world record. The village is also famous for its art of copper bells, which are made without any welding and shouldering and done in three parts. Artist Luhar Husen Sidhik, whose family has been into the copper bell art for decades, said these bells were initially made to tie around the neck of the cattle. However, later on it took the form of a handicraft and his family began to make wall hangings, candle holders, key chains, showpieces, among others. While the bells are made by the men, the glazing and final touches are given by the women of the house, he added.
“We sell these items to tourists, who come for the Rann Utsav. We also show them how these bells are made to give a first-hand experience of the hard work involved in making these unique pieces,” he said. Another village that has prospered from tourism is Ludiya, famous for its textiles, embroideries, wood furniture, mud and clay works. In this village, Aachar Maya Marvada and his family live. The entire family consists of around 200 members living in 20 houses.
“Our village was completely destroyed in the 2001 earthquake but was rebuilt. We sell our textiles, embroideries, wooden furniture products mainly to tourists and we also take part in the exhibitions and fairs across the country. A lot of tourists come here and buy our works,” Marvada said. For the mud work, the family members travel to the sites to do the work on walls, ceilings, pillars, among others. “The annual fair has increased the visibility of our work and we are getting orders from across the country,” he added.
Another village is Dhamadka where over 90 families are into block printing and screen printing. The printing is done with both natural and chemical colours, said Khatri Suleman Mohammad, who is mainly into block printing. “We usually take bulk orders from companies and designers. We also stock up some materials as lots of tourists visit us and buy directly from us after seeing live demo. Our business has improved a lot after the Rann festival,” he says smilingly.
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