Using leather, multi-coloured threads, mirrors and cotton cloth the craftspersons of the Meghwal Community from the Banni and Pachchhan areas of Northern Bhuj create the most astonishingly gay and cheerful leather panels, mirrors, chappals and other decorative and utilitarian items made of leather.
Leather work is a striking example of a craft that has successfully moved out of the village milieu into the urban market. The craftspersons fashion products of interest for the larger city markets with accustomed ease. Buying their raw materials locally – leather from Ahmedabad, mirrors from the village itself – they create products that are being marketed and sold internationally.
Legend has it that Lord Krishna once killed a devil and freed a thousand women from his captivity. These grateful devotees followed Lord Krishna to Dwarka and brought with them a rich and diverse collection of embroidery stitches from a thousand places. Thus the Rann of Kutch has the reputation of producing the best embroideries in the world, whether on cloth, leather, on any other surface.
Habu Nath Harizan, the craftsman interviewed, learnt the craft from his father at the age of 17. He is now 21, but does not remember or recall how the craft he practices originated.
Famous for their leatherwork and unusually bold patchwork, the Marwada Meghwal community originally came from Marwar, Rajasthan. In Kutch they function both as leather workers and wool weavers, living and working closely with the Maldhari Muslim cattle herders from whom they obtain the hide of dead animals.
The Meghwal women are skilled embroiderers and do colourful finely detailed wall painting. They gather in the evenings to embroider their own clothes and make pieces for sale to outsiders. The leatherwork and embroidery done by the Harijan community has evolved into contemporary leather products fashioned by the Harijan community: some embroidered, the rest decorated.
Leather is the mainstay of the Harijan community and the entire community practices this craft. There is little agriculture to supplement the income of the craftspersons as the area is dry. In season the craftspeople grow bajra, jowar and groundnut – but little else.
The products are gay and reasonably priced and sold in towns, on orders, at haats and exported.