Published on May 03, 2021

Ahmedabad: What can a piece of furniture tell? A lot, if you have ears to listen to them. And that’s exactly what a team of researchers did when they embarked on the six-year long journey traversing Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab to document ‘vernacular’ furniture of north-west India.

The project recently took shape of books, a virtual exhibition ‘Itiha,’ and also became part of Google Arts and Culture. The project is an international collaboration of Design Innovation and Craft Resource Centre (DICRC) at CEPT University and UK-based South Asian Decorative Arts and Craft Collection Trust (SADACC).

“Vernacular furniture in context of this project is something which is part of everyday life of people, designed locally and made by craftspeople using locally-available material,” said Prof Jay Thakkar, executive director of DICRC. “While we found broad categories such as seating furniture, storage furniture, etc. in each of the four states, its internal variety was mind-boggling. It also gave a peek into the region’s history, climatic conditions, gender politics, community living and lifestyle.”

Mansi S Rao, senior research associate at DICRC, said that it was a painstaking documentation for the team that worked in pair of two. “They not only took pictures but also measured dimensions, prepared scaled drawings, identified material, geo-tagged it and categorized them. We were lucky to find many pieces which are no more produced by traditional artisans,” she said.

About every state is documented through 400-500 pieces, said researchers, ranging from hinchko (swing) of Gujarat to manch (seat)of Haryana and sandook (cupboard) of Punjab to kothlio (larder) of Rajasthan.

Takhat | Haryana

A takhat is a wooden bench found in residential, public, religious or commercial spaces. It comprises a horizontal frame which is fixed to the legs. Wooden planks are fixed on the frame either by nails or rivets to form a seat. In the community spaces like chaupal, takhat are used by men to sit on for leisure activities, council meetings and community gatherings. Takhat used to be an important ceremonial gift earlier, today it’s still exchanged between the bride and the groom’s families, as a part of the wedding rituals. It’s an example of a ‘gendered’ furniture, said experts.

Dholiyo | Gujarat

Found mostly in Saurashtra region of Gujarat, Dholiyo is distinct from khatlo (khaat) due to heavily-turned legs finished with characteristic red lacquer. Its surface is made of tightly-woven cotton straps, often covered with fabric sleeve or cover which is also decorated with embroidery or applique. In some communities, the charpoy is associated with a single male member of the family who uses it throughout his life. Its association is so deep that it’s cremated along with the person or is dismantled forever. In some communities, it used to form bride-wealth. The modern examples have brass fittings to accommodate mosquito net.

Basni and Tarvaiyya | Rajasthan

Basni is a unique low stool used by women of Godwad region to carry out everyday chores like grinding grains or cooking. Ergonomically, the jutting wooden members of the frame provide support to the thighs when the women sit on it. Tarvaiyya is another type of low stool found in Dungarpur district, which is specifically used while milking the cattle. It is made from locally available wood by joining four inclined legs to a small wooden plank.

Kothlio | Rajasthan

Kothlio is a larder specifically found in the rural desert parts of Barmer and Jaisalmer. It is made using mud and works as refrigerators to store perishable food items. The form and ornamentation of a kothlio is decided by the women of the family who made them. The women decorate the kothlio with mud-relief and mirror work, similar to the patterns used on the walls of the house. A newly married woman is expected to craft her own kitchen space along with the kothlio when she moves in with the husband’s family.

Sandook | Punjab

Sandook is a type of storage furniture used to store clothes, mattresses, bedding and pillows. Valuable items like jewellery, gold and money are also stored in hidden compartments or between the mattresses. Itis often ornamented with carvings, mouldings, and paintings. A sandook formed an important part of marriage rituals in Punjab as it’s part of the bride-wealth. A sandook would be commissioned specifically for such occasions. The sense of memory associated with vernacular furniture is most evident in the case of sandook. In Punjab, some families choose to hold on to it along with all the belongings of the owner intact in their memories after the owner passes away.

Sarpoz | Punjab

A sarpoz is a container with a lid used to store food items, in particular, roti. It is made using dried wheat stalks and is decorated with woollen threads of different colours. Motifs of animals and birds are made using dyed cotton threads. The lid is similarly made. Sometimes, an additional knitted cover is put over the lid.

Majju | Rajasthan, Haryana

Like Sandook, it’s also a storage furniture. But like patara of Gujarat, these wooden pieces are unique in its construct and usage. Experts said that no two majju are the same as the artisan/ craftsman made small changes in design and functioning. It was said that only the maker and the head of the family would know how to open it. The secret would pass on from one head to another as majju often came with false locks and openings.

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