It has been 22 years or more since Vankar Murji learned and excelled in the art of weaving. Hailing from the Kutch community of Marwada Vankar, he reminisced with me about the family tradition that has made him the man that he is today. Tradition is of great importance for Vankar. His father was a master weaver associated with the Bhujodi Weaver’s Cooperative and inspired Murji and his brother Dayarambhai to become weavers.
Now, Vankar is a self-made weaver who wants to follow his family’s tradition. He has 10-15 artisans working alongside him to promote Bhujodi village’s otherwise dying art. Many are his relatives. In a village of about a few hundreds of weavers, Murji wants time to be his ally so that this fading handcraft finds appreciation in a growing modern India.
Murji bhai, as he’s fondly called by many who know him, talked us through the process of weaving. For many generations, his village had ties with the nomadic clan of the Rabaris who would provide dhaaga (thread) from woolen fleece from local sheep and goats, which would be used for weaving, and later exchanged as shawls and other items. For his predecessors, wool has been their trademark material in the production of shawls and blankets for the community.
But major events of the 20th and 21st centuries affected the primacy of wool in the weaving arts. Post-independence India’s protectionist economic policies declined in 1991, and local markets opened into national markets. A few decades later, globalization profoundly affected the craft sector as a whole. In the face of these changes, wool lost its standing to synthetic fibers and cotton.
In a more competitive marketplace, the hand-loom weaving business moved forward by incorporating more designs and patterns. Designers and weavers, including Vankar Murji, began a fusion of traditional patterns with market trends to accommodate consumer demand. Murji’s adds his community’s heritage of traditional weaving steeped in warmth and affection.
Murji bhai recalls devoting time for a designing course in 2008 with a childhood friend at Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya in Kutch, Gujarat.That was an inspiring moment for him and his organization. His final project for the academy was named “Miri” and it was inspired by the Dhablo weaving method,called ghoontni wherein he placed an extra finger weave over the handloom woven cloth. This has been his trademark ever since.
One of the biggest credits that one can give to Murji bhai is that he loves learning more about his tradition and improving. But that doesn't mean he’ll surrender the importance of newness in his art. He and his team are constantly on the lookout for trends that help his products succeed in the market. He is constantly working with his school, Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya, local NGOs and other organizations like The Color Caravan wherein he keeps in touch with not only the market trends but the virtual world. He believes that “age is no barrier when it comes to learning,” and his best teachers over the years have been his customers.
Currently, Murji bhai is attending exhibitions in and around India where he displays his weaving prowess. His organization specializes in shawls, stoles, jackets, sarees, and scarves. They have expanded to bed sheets, cushion covers and even curtains. When quizzed about his three children’s reaction to his growing fame, he says that they themselves question him about his art. He wants them to learn because he says this craft is his legacy, an essential part of his community’s identity, but also his identity. He wishes his son would grow up to be a “loom ka engineer”. But he also has plans to include his daughters in the business, thereby breaking the tradition of not allowing women in the weaving business.
He concluded our talk by echoing his family’s words: our identity lies in our craft. He knows that keeping traditional art forms alive will involve struggle, but he has not lost heart. He remains inspired by his vision of a bright future for his craft and his community.
Vankar Murji's beautiful creations are now available on thecolorcaravan.com.
Swati Seth is the founder of The Color Caravan. The venture partners with independent craftspeople, Self Help Groups & NGOs across India to co-create products and helps bridge gap between artisans and the market, thereby reviving the handicrafts as well as livelihood.