Kutch (also referred to as Kachchh) is a mystery land, not easy to comprehend. Kachchh is a sanskrit word meaning (land) which gets intermittenly wet and dry. Its vast length and breadth cannot easily be covered, and it is greater in area than some states of India. It’s the second largest district of the country (next only to Ladakh) located on the north-west frontiers of India.
Spread over an area of 45,652 sq. km., Kutch occupies almost one-fourth (24%) of the geographical area of Gujarat State. Besides, it accounts for nearly 60 percent of the drought-prone area of the State. More than half (i.e. 23,310 sq. km. or 51%) of its area consists of saline marsh of the Great and Little Ranns of Kutch which bound the district on the north and east.
It has a vast coastline of 352 kilometers with Arabian Sea that binds the district on the south-west.
It receives a low average annual rainfall of 380 mm during the south-west monsoon with an average of 15 rainy days in a year. Sometimes it gets intense rainfall within 24 hours which is more than the annual average.
Droughts are frequent – almost 6 in a cycle of 10 years. The temperature reaches up to 40 and often touch 50 degrees Celsius during the summer (April-June), while dropping to as low as below 1 degree during winter (January) in the interior parts of the district.
it is also strategically important from defense and security point of view.
Kutch lies rather isolated from the rest of Gujarat and is divided into three main parts, the central main habitable land, Little Rann and Big Rann. The two names(rann) are derived from the river Rann that floods large parts of the area during the monsoon.
The good thing about this is that it attracts a lot of special waterbirds. The great and Little Rann of Kutch are the breeding ground of Flamingo, Pelican & Avocet and the home of the rare Indian wild Ass which is now a protected species.
The city of Bhuj has a dramatic setting. Located rather low, it is basically an amphitheatre of hills dominated by the Bhuja Hill that rises to a height of 160 m at one end and is in itself a landmark being flat on top and surmounted by the fortifications of a hill fort. This strategically located fort obviously served the purpose of sighting enemies and alerting defense and an old wall surrounds the city which was also made for security reasons
Kandala a major seaport of the country with its single point-monitoring facilities, happens to be the only free trade zone of India.
Other major cities are Gandhidham, Mundra, Anjar, Mandvi (Madai) and Naliya
Desertlands of infinite dimensions, and in its midst, quaint little villages suspended in Time. Here you will come across master craft persons expositioning their traditional art, turning our master pieces everyday. Their ornaments, clothes, utensils, everything they use – will make you feel as if you have stepped into lifestyle museum.
Visit to Lakhpat is an trip into history. In this ancient port-city, time has been standing still for ages. It is today deserted, desolate, uninhabited, and invokes powerful nostalgia and soulful affection. Among the ruins stand the Gurudwara (holy shrine of the Sikh religion), the 200 year old, gigantic tomb of Ghosh Mohammed Caba, and many other places with ancient stories to tell
The Kutch Utsav is quite famous because of its folk dances, live music and markets. Enthralling opportunities are offered to visit the surrounding areas-even to the interiors of Kutch to give visitors a glimpse of the simple lifestyle of the tribals there.
The last day of the fair coincides with the Shivaratri festival, for which a grand fair is organized at Dhang.
Here local people, dressed in colorful, traditional costumes, congregate to pay homage at the shrine to Mekan Dada, which incidentally, or rather curiously, has a Shivalinga on its premises.
Presenting a fascinating amalgam of Indian and Dutch styles of architecture, the Aaina Mahal is definitely worth a visit. The walls of the main hall are covered with mirrors all around, and except for a narrow strip used for walking, the entire space has been beautifully utilized to form a pleasure pool.
Fountains are placed in such a manner that they cast their spray in an intricate variety of patterns. The Aaina Mahal also contains exquisite specimens of intricately cared embroidered panels, lithographs, cutlass, 18th-century paintings and clocks, one even dating back to 1849.
The oldest in Gujarat and regarded as one of the best, this museum has an excellent collection. Founded in 1877 by Sir James Ferguson, who was Governor of Bombay under the British Raj, the museum was earlier referred to as the Ferguson Museum. The museum broadly contains, a picture gallery, an anthropological section, an archeological section, textiles, weapons, musical instruments, a shipping section, and even stuffed animals.
Kutch has been a significant confluence point for different races and people. The nomadic pastoralists are certainly the most interesting and their links can be traced on one side to Marwar and Mewar (regions of Rajasthan), Saurashtra and, on the other side, Sindh and beyond to Afghanisthan, Iran and Central Asia. The total population of Kachchhis around the world is around 1 crore 10 lakhs (11 million) spread out in India, Pakistan, Africa, US, UK and Canada.
The population consists of various groups and communities like Jadejas, Bhanushalis, Lohanas, Jains, Brahamans, Maheshwaris, Bhatias, Rajputs, Gurjar Kshatriyas, Khojas, Memons, Shias, Sunnis, Kharvas, Mali Samaj, Rabaris, Rajgor, Baluch, Kharva Meghvals,Leva Patel, Wankars, Vankaras, Ahirs, Shah, Dhanetah Jaths, Halepotra, Bhadalas, Raisipotra, Sammas, Node, Gosains, Gadhvis, Kapdis, Soda Rajputs and many more groups .
The great Rabari group is spread over the western plains of India from Kutch to Rajasthan. They are Hindu cattle-breeders and shepherds, falling into three endogamous groups – those of Kutch, Rajasthan and Central Gujarat.
There are further sub-divisions according to region like the Garasia, Kachela, Dhebaria and Wagadia of Kutch. Rabaries worship the mother goddess, Ramdev Pir, horsemen heroes and the sainted dead. In Kutch, after the monsoon rains and their year’s wanderings, they celebrate all marriages on one day only, that of Gokul Ashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna.
The other main group of pastoralists consists of two dozen nomadic and semi-nomadic Muslim groups who trace their roots from Sindh and beyond. The Jath are the largest such group. The others are smaller and live in Banni area, a low-lying, sixteen hundred square kilometers pastureland close to the salt marshes of the Great Rann of Kutch, and also in the surrounding areas.
The main clans are the Halipotra, Raisipotra, Mutwa, Node, Hingorjah, Bhambha, Cher, Junejah, Kaskalee, Korar, Ladai, Nunai, Pathan, Samejah, Sumra and Tabah.
The Dhanetah section of the Jath are also in the Banni. They keep mainly cattle, no goats, and are settled around nearly fifty water-holes on the Banni.
The Jaths are a nomadic community spread over Kutch. They appear to have started their migration to this area, from Sindh, some four hundred years ago. Their main groups are Dhanetah, Fakirani and Garasia. The Garasia Jaths live mainly in the Nakhatrana region of Kutch.
There is a sprinkling of Bharwads also in Kutch, and they have spilled over from their home region in Kathiawar. There is a great concentration of Ahirs in Kutch.
In and around Pacham are the Sammas. An interesting community is that of the Sodha Rajputs, some of whom have been settled in Kutch in the recent past only, after coming from Pakistan. In other castled villages tribals like the Koli mingle with the normal population.
The languages spoken predominantly in Kachchh is Kachchhi and to lesser extent Sindhi and Gujarati. Script of Kachchhi language has become extinct and it is occasionally written in Gujarati and Devnagari(Sanskrit) script. Efforts are on to revive the original Script. Samples of Kachchhi script are available in Kachchh Museum. Increased use of Gujarati language is mainly because of it being a medium of instruction in schools. Often Kachchhi language is mistaken as dialect of Gujarati, however this is not true since Kachchhi language bears more similarity with Sindhi than Gujarati.
The different tribal groups that now live in Kutch have migrated there from countries as diverse as present day Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and other areas in the Middle East and Central Asia. There is even some evidence to show that the Jat community may have originated in Greece or Germany.
The textiles of each of these groups evolved through necessity as portable vessels, furnishings, and items of clothing. Each community and tribal group has it’s own lexicon of motifs and embroidery stitches. Other craft techniques, such as batik and beading, have been imported into Kutch through sea trade with other countries.
As far as Religion goes, remarkable amity amongst different religions groups has been traditional in Kutch. This openness to all religious faiths goes back to the common roots of the Jadejas and Sammas of Sindh. Such cohesion turned out to be of great politic value also and even though Muhammaden armies crossed the country, Kutch was never considered ripe for a Jihad.
The Kutch rulers paid equal reverence at temples, mosques and dargahs and though being Hindu, a good portion of their army was Muslim. The Kutch durbar also gave protection and facilities to pilgrims going to Mecca.
This cross-worship by different religious groups continues to this day. More interesting is the fact that apart from the orthodox streams, what prevails can best be described as popular religion – the worship of saints, mystics and heroes.
Kutch has a wealth of traditional crafts, not only in textiles, but also woodcarving, cast silver work, lacquer work, terracotta pottery. Houses are often decorated with designs made from mud, cow or camel dung, clay slip, and mirrors. The major textile techniques for which Kutch is famous are listed below:
There are five main block printing techniques done in Kutch:
● Direct block printing is just that. The block is dipped into dye and printed directly onto the fabric.
● Resist block printing is achieved when the block is dipped into a dye resist paste, usually tamarind seed paste and lime, then printed onto fabric which is then dyed and the resist paste is removed to reveal the undyed fabric underneath.
● Ajrakh block printing is a special style of direct block printing for which Kutch is particularly famous. Traditional Ajrakh designs can be traced back several centuries to Persia (Iran). Real Ajrakh is done with natural indigo and madder dyes.
● Discharge block printing is a chemical process whereby the fabric is first dyed with one color, then printed with another.
● Batik block printing is a wax resist technique.
Tie Dye (Bandhini)
Designs are carefully built up in a number of colors, starting with the lightest and working through to the darkest.
Shawls and rugs are woven in cotton, wool, and even camel hair. Traditional designs are a distinctive style with bands of simple geometric shapes such as stripes, diamonds, triangles, star shapes, and chevrons.
Although Ikat weaving is not traditional to Kutch, one weaver has recently introduced this technique, in which the pattern is achieved by tying and dying either the warp or the weft before weaving. In Kutch, Ikat is a luxury item, always done in silk.
The various villages and the prevelant caste system of Kutch have nurtured within their communities diverse types of embroidery. The secrets of these designs are affectionately gaurded. They are handed down as family heirlooms from mothers to their daughters and daughters-in-law.
Dandiya and Kutchi Gajiyo are the popular folk dances originally belonging to Kutch region. Disco Dandiya a modern form of dandiya started by Kutchi musician Babla is a hugely popular form of Dandiya as well.