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Stories In Geometry: The Jats & Their Hand Embroidery

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

Part I

It was dry, hot summer day when I took a trip to meet the Jat tribes living in the desolate desert land of Kutch. I had been waiting to meet them for a long time as it is not very easy to reach or talk to them. I was accompanied by a friend and our guide Ketan bhai who belongs to Kutch and knows many tribes that inhabit the hard to reach villages of Kutch. He decided to take me to two villages to visit different Jat communities.

“The first village I will take you to is a Dhaneta Jat village that has had no tourists and they are more conservative.” Ketan bhai informed. I nodded in response and continued gazing at the empty endless road ahead, hoping to run into a shepherd and his precious flock of sheep.

Ketan bhai was right; the Dhaneta Jats are one of the most reclusive tribes in India. Jats are believed to have migrated to Kutch in search of greener pastures from Iran and divided into several clans depending on their occupation and study of the Quran. The Dhaneta Jats practice Sunni Islam and continue to practice their traditional work form of cattle herding. Most of them continue to earn their livelihoods from selling milk.

After what seemed like ages, our car took a sudden turn to an unmarked road that was more of a dirt path. It was sporadically dotted with wild vegetation.

“How do you know when to turn?” I asked Ketan bhai baffled.

“We Kutchis can recognize turns by looking at rocks too.” He laughed and answered in response. We drove for another half an hour, until the dirt path seemed to blend into an unoccupied land populated only by wild plants. Finally, we reached the village & parked our car under the shade of a very old and large tree. Ketanbhai was glad to give his overheated car a break too.

As soon as I stepped out of the car, I could hear the voice of a young girl singing a beautiful, melodious song I couldn’t understand. I turned to spot a well where the girl stood drawing water in a bucket. I was tempted to take a photograph of the stunning scene, but decided against taking any pictures without the community’s permission.

Very quickly, three men from the community had laid a cot under the much needed shade of the tree. I greeted them and sat down on a plastic chair next to them. I noticed two houses standing opposite the tree. A man from one of the houses stepped out with an oval stainless steel vessel filled with chai. He carried along one tiny plate. One by one the men took turns to drink the chai and eventually the plate reached me. The man religiously washed the plate with water every time someone drank tea. Even though the men were being as friendly as possible, I could not help but notice the tension in the air. Their distrust in people who are not part of their community was very apparent. The iciness was broken up a bit when a man asked Ketanbhai:

“Is this her traditional outfit?” (I was dressed in a jeans and a long shirt).

“Women in cities wear anything they want!” Ketanbhai enthusiastically responded and everyone burst into laughter.

Keen to change the topic I asked about a house that seemed to have an extension hut with a thatched roof.

“That is our traditional hut!” They answered in unison when the question was translated and asked by Ketanbhai.

Traditional Jat Settlements designed to protect livestock under them

Buffaloes are a crucial part of the community. I was told that each family can own 40—60 buffaloes and that when it doesn’t rain much; they are forced to relocate to other areas temporarily or even permanently.

All of a sudden, one of the men saw the girl by the well had filled up the water and called her towards us. She smiled brightly and skipped over to meet us.

“Aapka naam kya hai? I asked. (What is your name?)

She replied with an even brighter smile unable to understand the words I spoke. Although we couldn’t talk due to language differences, that was no barrier in our connection and I gave her my best smile.

“You can take her picture” Another villager informed me in Hindi.

I instantly pulled my camera and took the picture you can see below:

She was dressed in her beautiful, colorful traditional attire with a hand embroidered yoke, accented with a thick choker. This style of Jat embroidery is becoming quite rare. I had the good fortune to see a few of their vintage pieces too, that show the geometric beauty in motion of the embroidery form.

Close up of a vintage Jat traditional attire for a woman

The community is fiercely protective of women and I was not allowed to take pictures of any women in the village but I did get a chance to meet them while being closely followed by a man from their community.

Dhaneta Jat women have now moved to wearing many machine embroidered pieces but the married women still sport a large gold nose ring that is supported by threads resting on their hair. Their heads are covered in bandhani fabric dupattas that gracefully fall down their backs. It amazed me to see women cook in the scorching heat with a wood fire. The women are caught up manage households while the men mainly take care of their cattle. It is a simple life that seems very far removed from the hustle and bustle of my city - Mumbai.

All in all, this trip to the village was definitely scary but not an experience I will ever forget to treasure...

Shop here for your special Jat embroidery straps

*All images and text belong to Ruas.

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