Since ancient times, the long coastline of Gujarat, dotted with natural harbours, and its land links with regions beyond, fostered trade, travel and migration in and to the region.
In about the second half of the 19th century traders from Gujarat, who had established trading ties with ports on the east coast of Africa, started bringing vast quantities of Venetian-Murano beads, traded there, to Gujarat.
Of sparkling bright colours and uniform size, these minute glass beads caught the fancy of artisans and women homemakers who went on to string them to create a range of functional and decorative articles from hand-fans to torans (a panel on the entrance door lintel) and chaklas (decorative squares)
Fast forward to the 21st century! In yet another meeting of cultures and creativity, rooted in the traditional craft of Gujarat, are the lovely beadwork bangles and accessories handcrafted by women of the Mir community.
The Mirs -traditionally nomadic and believed to be descendants of Kashmir’s Butt tribe-migrated to Gujarat in centuries past. A small group of Mirs is now settled in Dasada village, Surendranagar district, on the fringes of the Little Rann of Kutch, a vast salt marsh.
The women of the community have been crafting beadwork accessories that they have sold to travellers to the region. Seeing their skill and sensing a potential in enhancing their beadwork, Eklavya Foundation and Soar Excursions, who work for sustainable and responsible wildlife and cultural tourism trained young girls and women from the Mir community to create gorgeous bead jewellery. Carole Douglas, an Australian artist and designer, helped redesign the bangles in terms of aesthetics and quality.
The happy result of these collaborations is a collection of lovely beadwork bangles, created by working scores of tiny glass beads in a symmetrical composition, with the geometric patterning being wonderfully highlighted by the colour combination of the beads.
The beads are first sorted by colour and size to give the work piece a smooth, uniform texture, and the colours of the design worked out with a white bead typically set in the grids of the geometric pattern to bring it alive. Then working with needle, thread and beads, the women create a neat, intricate mesh over printed fabric that is wrapped around a sturdy recycled plastic base. This ensures the bangle is as sturdy as its look is delicate.
The sale of these bangles helps women practise and hone their skills; work from home; and earn a livelihood with pride at a time when the easy availability of inexpensive machine- made accessories and trinkets portends a fall in demand for traditional craft.
The onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic has hit the Mir community hard. Yet, the hardworking and resourceful Mir women know that continuing to craft beautiful beaded bangles will hold them in good stead in these difficult times as it has in the past.
The beaded bangles crafted by Mir women are available, in a choice of colours, in sets of two, at ARTISANS’ online. Their colours and design ensure they complement different ensembles, Indian and Western. And even as they look lovely at the wrist, they extend a hand of support to women living far away at the edge of a vast salt marsh.
Author: Brinda Gill