The embroideries are done by different tribal and community groups – some of which are interconnected culturally and ethnically. These is described below. Many of these communities specified a set number of items of clothing and textiles for domestic use to make up their dowries.. Originally, it was for her dowry that a young woman learnt to embroider.
There is a commonality of dress amongst these communities: ghagro or full skirt, kancholi or backless blouse, and odhni or long veil down the back for the women; dhoti or long cloth wrapped on lower body, vanjani or gathered pants, kadiyu or gathered short shirt, khamis or long shirt, shawls and turbans for the men. However, specific differences in colours, fabric and decoration will designate each community, and within that also age, and marital status. In addition, each community will specify significant items of jewellery and sometimes tattoo designs for the hands, necks and legs. There are two other communities with whom Shrujan interacts to obtain background textiles: Harijan weavers & Muslim Khatri printers & dyers.
Aahirs are Hindus who believe that they are the direct descendents of Lord Krishna. The migrated from Mathura (in ?????) to Kutch and neighbouring Saurastra. Traditionally they were cattle herders and produced dairy products but now they are more likely to be engaged in agriculture, or own and drive heavy haulage trucks. Aahirs designate just one day of the year for marriage ceremonies which means that many marriages have to occur at the same time. As well as being very observant of religious festivals and spiritual beliefs, Aahirs honour their ancestral warriors whose memory is inscribed in Holy stone tablets kept in their settlements at all times. Aahirs tend to be very progressive and out going in their thinking, and widows are allowed to re-marry.
This Rabari tribal group were originally from Rajasthan and came into Kutch on a south west route from Jaisalmer. According to their oral history, this migration was forced after a Muslim King demanded a Rabari girl, who they later stole back. They escaped first to Sindh (now in Pakistan), and then moved on to Kutch. Traditionally, Rabaris are nomadic shepherds who sell wool and milk. The traditional dowry embroidery requirements for Dhebaria Rabari girls was so onerous that it was causing serious social and marital problems within the community. To rectify this, some years back the community elders banned all embroidery and embroidered dowry. This also means that many young Dhebaria Rabari women now have no knowledge of their own traditional embroidery.
Mochi (Cobbler Community)
Mochis live all over Gujarat, and may be either Muslim or Hindu. They are cobblers who have refined their shoe decorating technique into a delicate chain stitch for fabric. Mochi men were professional court embroiderers at least as far back as the 16th century when worked for the Moghal Emperors. Irrespective of whether they are Hindu or Muslim, the Aari embroidery done by the Mochis clearly shows very strong Moghal elements, and also more unexpected influences such as 16th century Dutch botanical paintings first seen in the Moghal courts. After the decline of the Moghal Empire, Mochis dispersed to work for Hindu Royal families. Shrujan now works with women from the Mochi community.
Meghwals are a Hindu community who migrated from Marwad in Rajasthan to Sindh in Pakistan in the 17th century, and then on to Kutch in 1971 after the Indo -Pak war. Meghwars are traditionally cowherds, singers, and musicians. Now, they may also be employed as farmers, carpenters, tailors, and weavers. Meghwals often live and travel with Sodhas, with whom they share common embroidery styles and stitches. Some of their stitching and iconography bears a strong resemblance to embroidery done in Afghanistan, and the Hazara and Kandhar regions of Pakistan, suggesting that influences came from the north as well as the east.
Sodhas are traditionally Khshtriya, Rajput warriors and nobles. Their oral histories contain two stories relating to their origins. The first story originates from Madya Pradesh: when Brahma created human kind, he created four warriors, one of whom was Parmar from whom the Sodha are descended. The second story is that they are descended from Sodho the ruler of Ratakoti and Umarkot in present day Pakistan. The Sodha continue very strict and conservative family and societal traditions, some of which may have developed because of living in a predominantly Muslim area for many centuries. Sodha women are not allowed to leave their villages, although very recently some have been given permission to go out for Shrujan business.
The Mutwas are a small group of Muslim cowherds who live in a small cluster of eleven villages in the Banni district of Kutch. They are culturally distinct, and claim to have migrated from the Middle East around the 16th century, probably in search of better grazing pastures. Their houses are highly decorated with fine mud clay work and painting on both interior and exterior walls. Inside wooden shelves and stands for quilts are intricately carved. Young girls before marriage wear choralu (long dresses) over salwar ( loose, baggy pants). As Muslims, the iconography for both Mutwa and Node is mainly geometric with some small floral motifs.
The Node are a sub clan of the Muslim community, connected to, but separate from, the Mutwa. Originally they too lived in Banni, but water scarcity and lack of good grazing fields forced them to leave and they now live in the Anjar district of Kutch. Young girls wear the aabo, or long caftan which is heavily embroidered down the front. Node use similar icongraphy to the Pathan Muslims of Pakisthan, suggesting a northern influence or trade at some time.
There are many different communities of Harijan’s living throughout Kutch, including Meghwals ( see above). Harijans are Hindu. They sometimes live in their own villages, or alongside other castes, and communities, such as the Mutwas and Sodhas. Harijan embroidery tends to reflect the other communities with whom they are co-existing. Thus, Meghwal Harijan’s living with Sodha make Pakko, Kharek, and Soof embroidery, whereas Harijan’s living with Mutwas make the same Kambira and Khudi Tebha quilting as they do. As well as embroidery, Harijan’s practice a range of crafts including weaving. The Harijan village of Bhujodi is famous for weaving and is considered the best weaving centre in Kutch. Harijan are also proficient in relief clay and mirror work on the interior walls of buildings and storage units and grain holders. Their weaving and clay designs are highly geometric.
Jats are Sunni Muslims who are thought to have migrated to Kutch via Sindh in Pakistan from Iran as far back as the 5th century AD, continuing to about 16th century AD. Although evidence of Jat migration relies on their own oral tradition and sporadic references in ancient texts, it is possible that the Jats originated in Greece and arrived in India through Germany, Italy, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Sindh in Pakistan. Jats in Kutch are divided into three sub clans: Dhaneta Jats, who are settled cowherds; Garasia Jat who are settled farmers; and Fakirani Jats who are nomads. The Fakirani follow a very austere form of religion in which they seek a life of utmost simplicity. Their houses are temporary structures made from a type of sea grass. They do not have floors or furniture, and electricity is prohibited to them. When the house starts to get infected by termites, they simply move on to another place.