Knots of IdentityLocation - Rajkot
Meet the family, who with their single loom at home, have brought people within their community and around the world to sit down together as equals.
It’s sundown at Salawas, a village just outside Jodhpur. The sky is a faint pink curtain creased by wispy clouds. A group of men trudge along an empty street that’s just wide enough for a tractor, covered in the same red dust you’ll see all over the streets and walls of the village. They make their way to the home of Dariya and Pukhraj Prajapat, the man who put their village on the map as the durry centre in India. Guests are common at the Prajapat household and as is custom, cots are cleared away and large durries are rolled out in their courtyard.
Delicious aromas greet them as the women of the house carry out large plates laden with food. The men sit down, four to a plate, outdoing each other, joking and complimenting the meal as the night wears on. When the guests are gone and the durries rolled away, Pukhraj and his eldest sons Chhotaram and Samburam recount the day’s events before heading to bed, to prepare for another day of weaving.
Their days begin early and by 6:00 am, Dariya and Pukhraj are seated at their 100-year-old loom to weave together. Their hands dance across its threaded base in perfect synchrony, every movement second nature to each other’s, a ritual almost as old as their marriage. The patterns and colours drawn from their mind’s eye, almost instinctive.
Pukhraj comes from a long line of weavers who have been making durries for over five hundred years now, a craft that was born from a very basic necessity. As the story goes, hundreds of years ago, a Royal visited their humble village. Having offered up their highest seat to the king as custom demanded, they realised that they needed something else to sit on. And thus the durry was born.
As the years passed and they started weaving durries for themselves, it evolved from a functional piece of cloth spun with camel hair to an earthy form of art. Weavers started experimenting with different materials, using threads spun from cotton and coconut fibres, dyed with natural pigments to create unique patterns in vivid colour combinations.
It wasn’t too long before this new form of art caught the attention of the king himself, who commissioned durries for the palace. This humble piece of cloth travelled from the homes of common folk to deck the halls of the palace while entertaining nobles. And just like that, by the simple act of sitting down, two classes were brought to the same level, with nothing to differentiate them. For that moment, they were just people sitting on a beautiful durry in the comfort of their homes.
Durry making is in our blood, says Chhotaram as he sets up the loom for his parents, a long frame with two layers of white yarn stretched from end to end - the base upon which they weave. You’ll believe him too as you watch them begin with no visual guide, letting the design come to them as they intersperse coloured threads one line after the other. At the end of every line, they pack the threads tightly and interlock the layers of the loom, a process so smooth you’ll almost miss it.
Thread. Tap. Interlock. The process is long and they keep at it for hours on end. They work quietly, taking comfort in each other’s company when Pukhraj breaks the silence with a quip that makes Dariya laugh. Moments like these are frequent in the 2 weeks it takes to reach the end of their design. After the final interlock, the threads are cut and the loom dismantled, for just a few days of respite before the process begins all over again.
Over the years, Durry making has become an important means of livelihood for many families in Salawas and the neighbouring desert regions. In 1990, Pukhraj started a cooperative to help these families get organised and reach more buyers across India and overseas. Every month, Chhotaram and Samburam visit the weaving families of Salawas, taking inventory for orders.
Even though they’ve embraced the changing times, Salawas hasn’t changed, its people holding fast to their roots. With every new generation that takes up weaving, they are inconspicuously wearing down the social order, making equals of all those who sit down on their Durries.
The further these Durries travel, the more visitors they bring back to the village. Visitors who navigate their way through the dusty, empty streets of Salawas to an earthy, red-walled home where Pukhraj Prajapat and his family roll out their Durries and wait, with welcoming smiles.
He points out that based on which side the knot is, it is easy to recognise if the person wearing it is left or right handed. Dharamaraj points out that such small details, if understood and studied, reveal so much about the great people who used to wear them.
It is said that the styles of Pagris change every 15 kms. Imagine then, how many people Dharamraj is yet to know.
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