These are some examples of the freeform embroidery our Gujjar Bakarwal women do at the project. The motifs and stitches are an amalgamation of the various cultures they have been exposed to during their centuries old migration from Greece, through Persia, Turkmenistan, Swat valley, Gujarat and then upwards to Kashmir right up to Uzbekistan and back now.
Some historians claim they are descendants of the Hepthalites and their Khanate at one time covered most of West Asia and east Europe as this map suggests. The Gurjar rashtra was the biggest kingdom in India.
We’ve been doing some patchwork research on our own from sources on the internet, books and interviews and here is a rough map we have come up with of the possible route this clan have travelled since 5th Century AD. The J&K Tribal research and cultural Foundation has a fairly extensive document on this community.
The cues for creativity are all around us. Here are some occasions when we were inspired by what we saw. The saddle cloth with its tassels converted into a double sided “saddle” bag was a conscious decision but these flowers blooming everywhere were etched in one’s memory and translated into lovely swirls of embroidery.
Often, the colors used by the Bakarwal women reflect their moods or what they wear on that day. Below is an example of this extension of one’s self. Mumtaz is busy embroidering a bag with colors that match her kameez!
It’s nearly a year since the project started and it’s on full swing!
It was in May 2011 that Ramneek shared her thoughts on doing something productive and insightful with the Gujjar community that dot the villages around her home town of Pahalgam. She had a traditional cap and a tattered bag she had brought as samples. And that was it! The humble beginnings of the Shepherd crafts project with Gujjar Bakarwal women near Pahalgam, Kashmir.
Pahalgam Hotel has supported this endeavor since it’s inception and continues to do so.
12 women came forward and we started our production cum training workshop as well as the project at our center in October 2011. Within 3 days, the numbers grew to 24 and we had to stop enrollments temporarily.
Work continued till November and had to shut down as it got too cold. Our little barn which is our work studio has large gaps in it’s walls and the strong cold winds from the pine forest below sweep down through us into the valley below! So it was pack up time till we found a solution to the cold. And resourceful Ramneek found one soon enough. We were back at work in February regardless of the piling snow and sub zero temperature as now we had a winter studio – a Gujjar house next door that had a Bukhari burning all day keeping us all warm and cosy.
We were now at least 30 women strong.
It’s been an exciting year as this project demands a different methodology for production. Since the community is migratory, we are plotting their routes, base camps and schedules to stream line our process of giving out materials and instructions and receiving finished pieces regardless of where the women are based.
The number of enrollments has crossed 50 and production is on full swing. Here are some of the initial work samples