The Life and Work of Weaver Shamji Vankar

Master weaver and his community from Kutch Gujarat

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dastkari Haat Samiti

Dhabla Weaving: Women returning home with fodder gathered for their animals (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The village of Bhujodi

Bhujodi is half an hour away from the capital town of Bhuj, which is the hub of commercial and cultural activity in Kutch. It is the second largest district in India but remained isolated and untouched in many ways until the early part of the 21st century when electricity and water reached most homesteads. The large expanse of the surrounding terrain changes, with homes built in close proximity to each other as the road approaches Bhujodi.

Dhabla Weaving: Walking through the streets of Bhujodi Village (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Homesteads in Kutch were generally built of mud and wood. After the 2001 earthquake, most of the villagers rebuilt their homes in concrete, replacing the earlier mud and thatch construction.

Dhabla Weaving: A Rabari family outside their home (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

It is only in the courtyards where the looms are kept, that the floors are still of pale brown mud, baked hard in the sun.

Dhabla Weaving: Shamji Vankar in his showroom (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The markets of Bhujodi

This is the home of Shamji Vankar, the Dhabla shawl weaver, award winner, entrepreneur, pioneer in innovation and revival, his extended family, and many others from his community who work on their looms in open courtyards and verandahs. Bhujodi is on the craft-loving traveller’s map, and the market is filled with small shops that cater to all kinds of tourists. Shamji’s interior showroom is quite different from the other shops located in the market. It is located after a visitor has walked through his courtyard.

Dhabla Weaving: The main street entering Bhujodi village is full of shop-fronts targeting tourists (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Small showrooms at the front end of village residences, open on to the small main street to display what they think will catch the tourist’s eye.

The textiles on display are often not highly aesthetic but tend to cater to popular tastes.

Dhabla Weaving: In Shamji Vankar's showroom (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Shamji's shop is full of treasures for the discerning eye.

He proudly displays new developments, old sample pieces, commissioned works and a wide range of textiles in wool, silk, cotton and khadi, which is hand spun and hand woven.

Dhabla Weaving: In Shamji Vankar's showroom (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

No one goes away empty handed after engaging with this proud weaver and polished salesman.

Dhabla Weaving: Entering the workshop of Shamji Vankar and his family (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Workshops that bring communities together

The success Shamji Vankar and his family have achieved makes them conscious of the responsibility to those with whom they shared relationships and values systems for centuries. Over time, as his social consciousness increased, his community of people working on producing shawls and fine weaves grew in number. His knowledge of the preferences of faraway markets was shared and helped others to improve the quality of their work.

Dhabla Weaving: Hand spinning yarn from raw wool (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A prosperous village community makes Bhujodi a living example of a still relevant, shared value system of a people who would otherwise have been isolated and out of tune with the changing world.

Shamji and his family have set up a work space in their village where sampling is done and production is organised.

Dhabla Weaving: The courtyard, with workspaces along one side (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

At the far end of the courtyard is the work area for some of the dyeing and yarn preparation.

Dhabla Weaving: Solution of harda being prepared for pre-treatment of yarn before natural dyeing (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The pre-treatment of yarn with harda is also done in the courtyard.

Harda, also known as black myrobalan is prepared from fruit of Harda, and yields yellow and grey shades with aluminum and ferrous mordants respectively.

Dhabla Weaving: Various kinds of yarn and dyestuff for use during weaving (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

At one side are rooms with various kinds of raw material: balls of natural wool, hanks of coloured yarn, dyestuff.

Dhabla Weaving: Shamji Vankar at work at his indigo vat (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

As Shamji’s family’s business grew, he and his brothers were able to make a new workplace for themselves.

Dhabla Weaving: Looms at Shamji Vankar's family workshop (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The looms at Shamji Vankar's family workshop is where much of the design development and sampling is done.

Dhabla Weaving: Women working on warp preparation (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Most weavers have looms in their homes.

Dhabla Weaving: Fabric drying in the sunshine (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The workshop is equipped for all processes associated with weaving. It is here that they have organised the work in a more professional manner.

Dhabla Weaving: The weaver at his loom (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

While continuing to work with their hands themselves, they have also employed others from the community, and have small units for different aspects of production.

Dhabla Weaving: Inside Shamji Vankar's family home (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

A familial home

Shamji’s family of four brothers work together as a unit. They value the mutual support and complementary strengths each brings to the whole. Their father, master weaver Vishram Valji, is the patriarch of the family, but has given the reigns of the family business to the next generation. He still guides and advises his sons, and takes pride in their success.

Dhabla Weaving: The weaver's workplace is adorned with posters and idols representing what he holds dear or sacred (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Family ties are very important for rural artisans. The grandfather or father’s achievements are often remembered and recounted.

Dhabla Weaving: The weaver's workplace is adorned with posters and images representing his values and beliefs (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Photographs of political leaders who represent their world or values, images of saints and deities adorn the walls.

Dhabla Weaving: Scattered on the ledges and on wall pegs are things the weaver is likely to need in his work (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Along with photographs of political leaders, and deities along the walls, bags with personal belongings are also hung.

Dhabla Weaving: Scattered on the ledges and on wall pegs are things the weaver is likely to need in his work (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The wall is also used to hang their tools.

Dhabla Weaving: Inside Shamji Vankar's family home (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

The Vankar family home has been embellished by a clay and mirror facade in relief work typical of old Rabari homes.

The Vankars are not Rabari, but belong to the Meghwal community. This was a way of showing appreciation and solidarity with others.

Dhabla Weaving: Shamji Vishramji Vankar with his family at their home (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Familial ties

Life in the village begins at dawn. Pride in its work is an important aspect of this community, and the Vankars put in hard work in the processes that go into making their beautiful textiles. Shamji’s family of four brothers work and live together as a unit. They value the mutual support and complementary strengths each brings to the whole.

Dhabla Weaving: Shamji Vankar at home (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

In the evenings, the cows come back from grazing and various members of the family gather in their home.

Dhabla Weaving: Shamji's mother (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

As the matriarch of the family, Shamji Vankar's mother presides over the family home.

Dhabla Weaving: Shamji Vankar with his son (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Despite the long hours and the hard work, there is always time for community and family.

Dhabla Weaving: Shamji Vankar and his brothers have taken traditional Dhabla weaving to an altogether different level of skill (2017)Dastkari Haat Samiti

Read more about Dhabla Weaving here:

- Heritage Textiles
- Weaving Process

Weaving Communities of Kutch
Credits: Story

Text: Aloka Hiremath and Jaya Jaitly
Photography: Suleiman Merchant
Artisans: Shamji Vankar and associates in the community
Ground Facilitator: Aloka Hiremath
Documentary Video: Suleiman Merchant
Curation: Ruchira Verma

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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