Quilted stories from Maharashtra
Making godharis or patchwork quilts has been a tradition across India. Each quilt maps the curiosities of the region while also making the best use of scraps of cloth and giving it a new lease of life.
The quilter of this godhari, wife of an itinerant fortune teller in Wai, has attempted to create a kundali (astrological chart) by superimposing coloured strips to form the planetary houses over the basic design of concentric squares
Fascinated by this tradition, Geeta Khandelwal started learning the craft as a hobby and then spent four decades collecting and documenting the craft. She has taken part in the Houston Quilt Festival, USA and Patchwork Quilt Festival, France, and also served on the advisory board of the International Quilt Study Centre, USA.
The Shantabai quilt by Khandelwal was inspired by a woman named Shanta bai that she met in her first exploration through a village. It recreates the typical environment of a village hut; the interior shows a deity, a kitchen in the corner, stacked up pots of water, a baby in a cradle, and a cow peeping in through the window
She is now hosting an exhibition of some of the godharis in the city. Titled Godharis of Maharashtra, Western India, it will feature quilts from Lonavala, Wai, Pune, Baramati, Kolhapur, Solapur, Konkan, Chiplun, and Nagpur, among other places. It will also mark the launch of a bi-lingual book (in English and French) by the same name that took Khandelwal three years of research.
The Kali quilt by Geeta Khandelwal will be auctioned at the event
The coffee table book documents quilting traditions across the state as well as the people who make these quilts.
There will also be a silent auctioning of the Devi quilt, created by the author. Proceeds from the sales will go towards cancer-afflicted quilters of rural Maharashtra. A visit to the exhibition will also allow you to check out a demonstration of godhari-making and you can even try your hand at it.
Narrow strips of red, pink, and mauve as well as printed fabrics have been used in this godhari. Pompoms have added a decorative touch.
Excerpts from an interview with Geeta Khandelwal:
Q. What fascinated you about godharis?
A. My romance with textiles started at an early age, when as a pre-teenager, I began stitching my clothes. I learnt to appreciate textures of the different fabrics, the weight of cloth, mixing and matching of varied colours. This led to a lifelong journey exploring the rich world of Indian textiles. I could not bear to discard leftover scraps of beautiful material. Being a hands-on seamstress, I would fashion the fragments into pouches, tray covers and runners. I also started to patch them together to form patterns, graduating to squares, which I would join, to form a spread.
Godharis of Maharashtra, Western India, Geeta Khandelwal, Quilt Mania Editions, Rs 3,400. Available at leading bookstores and at the venue of the exhibition.
Q. What is the cultural significance of godharis?
A. It is an unparalleled form of Folk art. My research and 30 trips to the remote villages was aimed to give these women dignity. I have converted a utility product into art by making a quilt a wall hanging. I have been making quilts for 40 years and it’s been a passion. It is amazing how these women create such pieces of art without using measuring tools. What I noticed was this extraordinary power of dignity, where women refused to sell quilts, since they are made of recycled clothes. Even in their rural settlement, they do not feel the need to sell a quilt created with old material.
A Konkani woman stitching the godhari
Q. Is the relevance of godharis slowly fading in modern times?
A. Yes, with the advent of mobiles and television along with globalisation, the art of making godharis is fading since readymade goods are available in villages too. With the spread of education, the younger generation knows that they can buy the blankets for as cheap as R200. In the earlier days, a woman would make around 30-40 quilts in her entire lifespan.
Q. What are the intricacies of quilt-making that you came across?
A. Maharashtra’s rural quilts are simpler compared to the kanthas of Bengal with their densely quilted background, made with fine needlework or the soft piled Rajasthani razais. Compared to quilt-making internationally, women here start making the quilt from the outer edge and move towards the centre. They call the centre the stomach of the quilt. They create a small pocket and fill it with kumkum, haldi, rice and bhakri and sew it. Once the Godhari is complete, they pray to Goddess Annapurna and request to give them a full stomach throughout the year. Godharis in India are made with layers of worn-out saris, sewn together with simple Katha (running stitch). It is created for personal use only, one of the reasons being the mother’s smell in her old clothes comforts the child. Every housewife has a different style. Most have no stories to tell and claim they learnt the art from their ancestors.
From: February 3 to 5
At: Coomaraswamy Hall, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Fort.