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Our textile high began with a visit to the Calico Textile Museum housed in a beautiful old Haveli in Ahmedabad.

Only 30 visitors are allowed each day under the stern guidance of a curator, who permits no lingering. The idea is to minimise the impact on the ancient fabrics displayed in what must be one of the worlds greatest textile collections. It was an excellent introduction to the beauty and variety of the embroidery awaiting us in the villages of Kutch. The Kutchi people were originally nomadic herders, traders and crafts-people, descendants of Krishna or migrants from the Thar Desert and Pakistan. Cotton and wool were hand spun into thread and dyed with indigo and turmeric (colours derived from plants and minerals). In a tradition passed from father to son, the men would weave the thread and the women, learning needlework from their mothers, generation after generation, adorned the fabric with the colour and brightness and the flowers missing from the arid landscape. Patterns and styles vary between villages and tribes but are always colourful and frequently sparkle with tiny mirrors. Earlier, the women created these works of art as a part of their dowry or for ritual community occasions like births and marriages. This is still the case but their art has developed into an additional source of livelihood now. In the early 1970s, when Judy Frater, an American, arrived in Kutch to research Indian textiles, she met a woman who said, Instead of studying us, why dont you help us? I realized it was practical and better to involve artisans in the preservation of traditional crafts rather than mere documentation, Frater says. She stayed on and set up Kala Raksha in Bhuj in 1991 with 25 artisans. Today, this cooperative has over a thousand members and sells its products in many countries. There are many similar stories involving Indian fashion designers and successful cooperatives. We had wondered whether we would find the villages over-commercialised. But this was not the case at all. We visited as fellow women genuinely interested in the artistic handwork and culture of the region and were welcomed with friendliness and many cups of chai (tea). Some villages produced hand crafted items for sale such as embroidery, copper bells and kitchen utensils decorated with colourful lac designs. In others, we were simply shown treasured family pieces to admire, along with the borehole pump and the newborn calf. We spent a night in Wankaner, midway between Ahmedabad and Kutch at the Royal Oasis, a classic Art Deco building, once the summer residence of a royal family. The next morning, we visited the palace where the clock tower is still under scaffolding following the 2001 earthquake. His Highness, Digvijay Sinh, the gracious former Maharaja invited us to join him for coffee and conversation while seventeen tiger heads on the walls of the banquet hall kept a glassy eye on our behaviour. Later, we were introduced to one of the palaces white Kathiawadi horses, the tips of her ears almost touching each other in a way unique to the breed.

experiencing a Museum : A Photographic Essay by Dashrath Patel through the Galleries of the Calico Museum of Textiles and the Sarabhai Foundation, Ahmedabad
Introduction and Selections from the Catalogues of the Museum by B.N. Goswamy, Sarabhai Foundation, 1998, 217 p, plates, ISBN : 8186980016, Rs. 0.00 (Free shipping within India only. No extras for postage and handling. )

From the Introduction by B.N. Goswamy: "In perfect awareness of the fact that museums have, across time, never truly been a part of Indian life, there has always been some discussion of whether there are, or can be, museums in India that yield a different 'experience', what we call here an anubhuti, to the viewer. The matter came up again, in the course of the recent workshop on museum practice held at the Sanskriti premises in Delhi. Dashrath Patel was making a slide presentation on 'Indian design', showing wonderful photographs taken in bazaar and country side of ordinary objects, rather arrangements of objects: dyed textiles spread out to dry in dazzling array on the sandy banks of the Sabarmati, delicacies displayed in rising rows of colours and shapes in a sweets-shop, Vegetables neatly stacked in seeming awareness of mutual relationships on a vendor's cart, garlands of glass bangles glistening on a hawker's pole, elegant jali-windows piercing the expanse of coarsely plastered mud-walls, ample turbans quietly hanging on carved pegs. The projection and the commentary over, there was animated discussion. Inevitably, questions were raised about coincidence, self awareness, intentionality; about whether the design was integral to the arrangements or was imposed upon them by the photographer's frame; whether there was justification in taking things out of their original context and fitting them into another. There was also the question that if it was possible to identify and expereinces an Indian sense of design was it reflected, or possible to reflect it, in an Indian museum? This question interests me. I am persuaded that in many ways the Calico Museum of Textiles is the most Indian of all museums in India. To be sure, there are others that possess a distinctive air; and virtually all museums in the land are Indian in the sense that the objects they house and place on view are almost exclusively from India. But it is not easy to think of another Indian museum that succeeds in shaking itself free of western models in the decisive manner that the Calico Museum does. I am not sure that the intention here necessarily was to subvert an idea only because it was an import from outside; nor do I believe that it is a matter simply of finely carved wooden facades and mud-plaster and indigenous materials. With the magnificent collection that it has at its core, somewhere I think the Museum sets out to do something else; it taps into a rich Indian vein, and embodies ways of seeing, and of establishing relationships, that are most appropriately rooted in the culture from which the objects it houses come. It is possible of course to overstate these things, or to remain unspecific while making assertions of this order. But there are at least three features quite obviously one speaks here not of the collection but of the arrangement, the way in which the museum displays are 'composed' that need to be noticed, for these one encounters, like subtle presences, everywhere. One, what can only be described as a certain density of sequencing: object succeeds object, section follows section in the Museum, seemingly without break, one thing leading to and merging in another. The effect is that of richness, not excess; of everything being related to and coming from a matrix where there is, or was, more. It is like seeing some stream in majestic. Continuous flow. Two, the manner in which the objects on display stay invitingly close to the viewer. There seem to be no areas that are isolated; nothing, barring the necessary protective coverings, comes between viewer and artefact; no cold distances are created. One is encouraged on the other hand

to move between objects: the overwhelming sensation is of being surrounded by them, not oppressively but so as to be able to feel the warmth that emanates from them. Three, there are no predetermined angles from which the displays as a whole are meant to be viewed. Regardless of where one stands, the field of vision gets quickly filled to the brim but, even as he senses this, the viewer becomes aware that the slightest shift in position will bring other things, other views, suddenly within his ken. Floor levels change, wide openings swing into view, other partially seen objects gleam in the distance. Quite clearly all this makes for a difference in the feeling that one gets that is in fact consciously aimed at in many another museum. Here, the formality of objects is whittled down; nothing is singled out for special attention; there is no sensation of being in a special, nearly alien, space as one moves through court and hall and gallery, in hushed admiration of the objects but also breaking occasionally into conversation with them. Add to this the low doors and the very softly lit corridors through which one initially passes before the display suddenly bursts upon one, the riches taking one's breath away, and we are close to having what explorers and archaeologists refer to as "the cave experience". Once the eyes adjust to the light inside the galleries, all that one has to do is to stand there and soak in the sensation, allow oneself to be laved in colour and pattern and honest texture, while those wonderful tents and awnings, saris and patkas, pichhavais and 'Palampores', phulkaris and soznis and rumals, whisper softly about the past and keep picking up resonances from one another. Quite suddenly one is an enhanted world that once was and, in some ways, still is, if one has the eyes to see and the vision to recover what is about to be lost. Dashrath Patel does not belong to that steady stream of visitors whom the Calico Museum and, with it now, the galleries of the Sarabhai Foundation, take completely unawares--he knows the places well; but here, in this volume, he too enters, in a way, that 'Dream Time' of which an aficionado of this Museum has written: the time in which, according to Australian bushmen, 'Gods made the universe, the heroes and demons of legend have their actuality, and in which our ancestors have been gathered even as our 'rites of passage' celebrations of birth, marriage and death are enacted'. With his camera, Dashrath takes a slow, ruminating walk through the galleries of the Museum and the Founation, capturing with the gaze of innocence not so much views and angles as sensations. There is no drama that one is made a witness to in his photographic essay; no 'effects' are sought to be achieved. It is a simple, honest walk that he takes, quietly registering what every viewer is likely to register, though not necessarily linger over in such detail. But the honesty is moving, and through it alone Dashrath is somehow able to catch the very essence of the place: the warmth, the spaces, and those sahaja, un-laboured, 'arrangements'. It is as a sahrdaya, "one of the same heart", that he records and evokes what he sees. Designedly, and with clear intent, Dashrath does not focus upon or single out objects even though there is scarcely a frame here that does not include them. Doing this could not have been easy, given the quality of the objects, but it was the atmosphere, the air inside the Museum and the Foundation galleries, that he had set out to capture. The objects themselves have received the most close attention from a different group of people: internationally acknowledged subject experts completely dedicated to the task of studying, and documenting, these extraordinary collections.

For nearly as many years as the Museum has been in existence, this work has been in progress, remarkable scholarship having gone into the series of publications that the Museum has steadily brought out: a journal, a series of books on contemporary textile crafts, monographs on aspects of technique, above all, several volumes aimed at cataloguing to date five of these have come out the Historic Textiles of India in the Museum. These plans have been well made. For, while there is obvious truth in the statement that most of the objects in museums were not originally 'treasures' made to be seen in glass cases but rather, as Coomaraswamy says, "common objects of the market place that could have been bought and used by anyone", they are deserving of the closest possible study. Attention has been drawn to these publications in the Annexure to this volume not merely because these come from what may be the most meaningful of publication programmes undertaken by any museum in India, but because any study of these should serve the purpose of bringing those who visit the Museum closer to the objects that make it what it is. Obviously only a small selection of the writings published could have been included, but these should enable the visitor to recall the magic of some of the things seen, to explore more depth than surface, and thus to experience the Museum again: at another level, perhaps in another, more enduring, way."

The Calico Museum of Textiles stands out for its uniqueness and antiquity of exhibits. The treasures it houses are the finest of fabrics-woven, spun, painted and printed in India over the past five centuries. A visit to this unique Museum is an enriching experience.

Incredible! Thats the adjective one of the foreigners used for the Calico Museum of Textiles. Simply amazing, remarked a European research scholar. The list of adjectives could go on and on, for such is the collection of textiles preserved in the cool and serene environs of the 90-yearold Sarabhai House at Ahmedabad. Founded in 1949, the Calico Museum of Textiles, stands out among specialized museums, basically for the uniqueness and antiquity of the exhibits on display. The care and imagination in the selection, lay-out and display of material could exlipse any textile museum. Originally, the Museum was housed in the Calico Mills, which is in the heart of the textile city of Ahmedabad. With the swelling collection of exhibits and the spectre of pollution looming perennially over the industrial area, the Museum was shifted lock, stock and barrel, to the safer and verdant confines of the palatial Sarabhai House. Tall trees, gardens, fountains, courtyards, ceramic mosaic terraces and marble floors lend a divine touch to the majestic Museum. The carved wooden facades, thick pillars and beams and havily wood-worked roofs give one the impression of an ancient haveli. The facades, doors etc. were, in fact, brought from deserted or crumbling havelis of Gujarat and Rajasthan and reconstructed in the perfected from.

The museums treasures consist of the finest of fabrics, woven, spun, painted and printed in India over the past five centuries. These marvels of the hand and the heart, collected from all parts of the country, charm the visitor through a variety of kalamkaris, pichhwais, patolas, bandhnis, silks, floorspreads, tent canopies and precious brocades. The Museum also has icons and busts made of bronze, sandstone and marble especially in the Jaina Gallery. The Museum has two galleries, one for the religious textiles and another for historical and other textiles. These galleries have further been split into smaller galleries focusing on specific nature of textiles. To give you an insight into the exhibits of the Museum, the authorities have a lady guide, who rattles out precise information about each exhibit. The guide, fluent in English, Gujarati and Hindi, takes the visitors, in groups, on a conducted tour o the Museum. But if you want more information on the exhibits, pick the catalogues which are placed in each room and which contain minute details of the displayed items. The tour begins from the Religious Textiles gallery, which displays textiles of the Vallabha Sampradaya, a Krishna sect founded in late 15th century, most wodely known for its sanctuary at Nathadwara in Rajasthan . The gallery opens with a small shrine simulating those found in temples and homes of wealthy devotees. On entering, the visitor is transported into a devotional aura with the jingling of traditional aarti sounds. The nine steps to the Shrine signify Navadha Bhakti. About 90 pichhwais, divided into three groups, are on display in this gallery. The first group of pichhwais relates to festivals and the pieces exhibited are those used during the festivals of Nandamahotsava, Sarada Purnima, Govardhana, Dharana, Gopastami Ramanavami and so on. The Nandamahotsave pichhwai, painted on cotton, dates back to the 19th century. It depicts the great celebration held by Lord Krishnas roster father, Nanda, on the day after Janmashtami. The second group of pichhwais consists of pieces that are not associated with any particular festival, but have seasonal themes. They can be hung at any time during the appropriate season when special festival pichhwai is not in use. In this group fall three pichhwais-the grisma (summer) pichhwai, which can be hung from March to June; the varsa (monsoon) pichhwai, which can be used from July to October; and the sarada (winter) pichhwai, which is used from November to February. Mordant and resist-dyed, the varsa pichhwai depicts gopis waiting for Krishna under a kadamba tree on the banks of Yamuna. The other theme in the varsa pichhwai is Morakuti, named after a small village in Vraja, the legendary home of Radha, where Krishna danced like a peacock to capfootprints (paduka), the Tree of Enlightenment (bodhi vraksha), the Wheel of Religion (dharma chakra), and a stupa. Image worship was introduced around 3rd century B.C. Early images of Tirthankaras were usually in sandstone and perhaps in wood, as well as in precious and semi-precious stones and some metals. Hence, some of the icons displayed at the Jaina

Gallery are the bronze Parsvantha of 1235 A.D., Tirthankara Digambara of 12th century A.D. in sandstone, and the seven-century-old Dvitirthi (two Tirthankaras) in bronze. The earliest Jaina texts were passed on orally from generation to generation. The early manuscripts were on palm leaf but the use of paper, which started in the 12th century became popular from the 14th century. Some ofht eimportant texts seen in the Jaina Gallery are the Kalpasutra, which is in three parts. The first part, entitled Jinacharita (the lives of the Jias) usually has the largest number of illustrations in the manuscript. The second is Samachari (rules for monks), which has fewer illustrations. The third is Sthaviravali (the succession of pontiffs), which is less abundantly illustrated. Manuscripts with illustrations of the scenes from the Samgrahani Sutra and patas, depicting the Jain concept of the universe and evolution of the soul the displayed in the Gallery. Samgrahani Sutra manuscripts are six-paper folios illustrating Jaina cosmological concepts and stoeis. Pata is an embroidered wall hanging which is used as an object of worship or for ceremonial purposes. The Adhai Dvipi Pata, dating back to 1505 A.D., displayed at the Gallery is perhaps the earliest piece of this type. Jnana Baji Pata, a knowledge game of the snakes and ladders variety, is a teaching aid, representing symbolically the effect of karma in the progress of the sould towards liberation. Also on display are the Tirtha Patas, which range in style from the highly stylized figures painted in rich colours of the 15th century to the more localized folk styles of the 18th and 19th centuries. Also on display are the Tirtha Patas, which range in style from the highly stylized figures painted in rich colours of the 15th century of the more localized folk styles of the 18th and 19th centuries. In stark contrast to the religious textiles are the historical and trade texment of a 17th century Mughal carpet that must have come from one of the workships which Akbar had established in India to continue the tradition of the Persian craft. On either side of the pathway are displayed a variety of fabrics, woven patterns, painted, printed, embroidered and appliqud decorations. Around a corner, a Mughal warrior in helmet and chain mail, with a sword and rhinoceroshide shield lends a genuine touch to the Mughal splendour. The earliest pieces of Indian trade textiles displayed in the Museum date back to the 15th century. Some of the pieces show the influence of Hindu or Islamic designs. The commonest and most typical of the Indian cottons found during excavations at Fostat in Egypt are those that are resistdyed with indigo. The orgins of the fragments of Indian fabrics discovered a Fostat could be traced to Tujarat. Another fragment found at Fostat was of block-printed and mordant-cyed cotton, of the 17th century. Patolu (singular) and patola (plural) are the terms used normally in Gujarat for silk weaving with designs in double ikat, that is, for fabrics where the warp and the weftr threads are coloured in sections by tie-dyeing before weaving, and are then woven to from intricate multi-coloured

designs. Most probably, patolas were exported from India even before the Europeans arrived. The main buyer was Indonesia, where patola fabrics became an important component of local custom and ceremony. Among the patola treasures of the Museum are the 19th century Sadi, a silk patolu tie-dyed in the warp and the weft, a patolu shawl, bed-covers, scarves and trousers. The Calico Museum of Textiles is different. Unlike other museums which follow the conventional method of displaying the pieces in glass cases, the Calico Museum authorities have covered the exhibits with a transparent plastic film. The film is scientifically tested to make sure that it is inert chemically. This has been done to ensure that the plastic films do not damage the dyes and the material which they want to protect. The Museum authorities have made all possible efforts to create a museum climate in and around the treasure house of ancient textiles. For instance, the museum pieces are protected from dust, air pollution and fluctuations in temperatures by the trees around the museum complex. Within the museum, the relative humidity of the galleries does not change too much or too sunddenly. The wooden structure, with relatively thick walls, shaded from the sun contribute to conservation requirements. The restricted visiting hours and a strict control over visitor traffic ensure a reasonably safe museum climate. Moreover, the darkness between visiting hours and a subdued lighting (approximately 50 lux level) protect the textiles from fading. All in all, the Calico Museum of Textiles is not just a trove of ancient textiles, it is a different world altogether. A visit to the Calico Museum would transport any visitor to the 15th and 16th centuries, bringing alive the India of the centuries gone by, through the carved wooden facades, motifis, frescoes, icons of sandstone and bronze, brocaded fabrics, tie-dyed and block-printed textiles.

The Calico Museum Of Textiles, Ahmedabad

This is one of India's finest specialised museums. It presents a tasteful display of Indian textiles, in well-kept galleries. It was founded in 1949 and is the brainchild of Ms Gira Sarabhai who initiated the collection of rare, exquisite fabrics from different parts of India. Through their traditional excellence and popularity, such pioneers were instrumental in reviving interest in India's rich textile heritage and showing the need to preserve and extend it. Today, thanks to the efforts of both government and private enterprise, the Indian textile industry, especially its handlooms section is second to none in the world.

The state of Gujarat famed for its superior cotton, with Ahmedabad as the old capital, has always been a major area for textile production. It is therefore quite fitting that this museum should have been set up here, giving artists, craftsperson, weavers, scholars and casual visitors the opportunity to study and enjoy the beauty of Indian textiles of different periods and from different places. Archaeological evidence and literature both indicate that textile production is an ancient Indian art, dating from even earlier than the Indus Valley Civilisation, 5,000 years ago. From paintings at Ajanta and Ellora, from miniatures and manuscripts, we get some idea of how fabrics were worn, their colours and combinations. Reference in literature speak of muslims and cottons so fine that they were compared to the evening dew, so cool and translucent in the case of the sherbati fabrics that they were described as 'air woven'. The aesthetics of textile design followed certain principles. There were special associated with festivals and seasons; mustards-flower yellow for spring, and deep brick red and crimson for auspicious occasions. Textiles, like Indian poetry, painting and sculpture, reflected an innate love of nature. Motifs on textiles derived their names from flowers, birds and animals : the peacock's eye, the jasmine bud, fish, running water and other abstract designs are to be found on woven, painted, printed and embroidered Indian fabrics. The museum in its present, new setting creates a charming atmosphere, with courtyards, gardens, fountains, quiet passages and evocative settings created with the textiles themselves to show how they were used: religious textiles, cloth is used in royal court etc. This introduction is very well presented and offers an insight into the genius of Indian weavers and the skills and traditions associated with the ancient art. Textiles can be broadly divided into those fabricated from cotton, wool and silk. Of these, cotton and wool appear to have been used throughout Indian history, beginning from the time of the Harappan Civilization. Indigenous silk was produced by the tribes of the north-eastern states like Assam, and of the Bihar and Orissa regions. These tusser and muga silks are still available in natural hues of gold, and each with their own distinct textures. There is a legend that a Buddhist monk brought a mulberry tree to India from China, where silk production was a closely guarded secret. There are numerous references in literature to silk garments throughout the medieval period. On a more significant scale, silk was introduced into south India during the reign of Tipu Sultan of Mysore, in the 17th century, through his 'French connection'. Any material, including textiles, cam be studied according to the techniques involved in their production. For fabrics, the first stage is the preparation of the yarn for weaving : the twirling and twisting (spinning), which provides the initial element of texture to the cloth. Handspun yarn, like that used an khadi (handspun and handwoven cloth), lends a delightful uneven texture to the cloth. The colours and dyeing techniques for yarn used are equally important. The best example of these is ikat, in which the yarn is tied and dyed in two, three or four colours, so that when it is woven the designs 'assemble themselves' on the fabrics. The museum has some outstanding samples of ikat from Gujarat, referred to there as Patola, in which both the wrap and weft threads carry 'colour coding', to create intricate, slightly fuzzy-edged motifs of elephants,

flowers and birds. This artistic techniques is still practised today in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The next step is the weaving, in the course of which wrap and weft interact to create sensitive combinations of colours, and an unbelievable variety of textiles. In this range we have elaborate brocades in which gold or silver and coloured thread are woven into the fabric to create special motifs and designs. To set a loom for weaving requires an in-built sense of harmony, mathematics and an uncanny sense of the forms to be created on a twodimensional surface. Balushar saris, brocades, the textiles from Paithan in Maharashtra and Kanchipuram silks are some of the samples displayed here. The artist not only had to consider technique and colour scheming, but also the functional value of the cloth, and how it would look when draped and worn. Weaving in silk, cotton, wool and sometimes a mixture of materials was mastered using simple horizontal and vertical looms. In the north-eastern states, the hip loom, or loin loom, is still common. Use was also made of the Jacquard loom and individual bobbins to introduce colours like gold in just the motifs of the fabric. After weaving, the numerous way in which fabrics can be decorated-painting, tie-dye, embriodery, applique-are presented. The museum has some exquisite samples of printed fabrics, especially those from Gujarat and Rajasthan, Wood blocks carved only one colour. Extraordinary skill was involved in the creation of one tiny motif, using as many as three or four different colours. Painting on cloth, called Kalamkari ('pen work'), was another popular art and there are example of temple hangings, and canopies from Gujarat and south India. A sizeable market was established in Europe in the eighth and 19th centuries for printed fabrics from India, for which the European trader introduced Western designs that the Indian artist was able to transfer on to the cloth, for hangings, furnishings, tableware and garments. Painted, printed and embroidered hangings were used to curtain off portions of the temple such as the main sanctum, and from Rajasthan, especially Nathdwara, come huge Picchwais (woven curtains or 'that which hides the deity') with graceful figures in gold and silver against a midnight-blue background, fragrant with flowers falling from the heavens, and the blossoms of trees.

Embroideries range from cotton on cotton cloth, silk, wool, gold and silver thread and sequins, mirrors and beads. the embellishment of fabrics with a variety of embroidery stitches was popular in all regions of India, from the tribal shawls, to those of Kashmir, the blouses and skirts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, and royal attire of the medieval emperors. The museum has some excellent examples of phulkari (flower work), including the embroidered odhanis made by young brides of the Punjab to cover their heads. A phulkari has a vertiable 'garden' of abstract, interlocking designs, in brilliant hues of golden yellow, red and brown, on a rich, brickred base cloth. From Himachal Pradesh, the exquisite rumal, or cloth used to wrap gifts and offerings, which are so finely embroidered that one cannot tell the right side from the wrong. Episodes from the epics and myths have been painstaking transferred onto the cloth and stand out like shadows in a fine mist. Amongst the woolen fabrics, the most highly prized wools are pashmina and shahtush, which, though very light and fine when woven, are extremely warm. The Indian shawl, of great variety in weave and design, was one item of male and female costume that captured the imagination of the artist. The shawl is worn loosely over the body, swung around one or both shoulders; it frames the body and head, and can be worn in many ways. The most complex woven shawl is the jamavar (jama = robe; yar = yardage). To prepare this shawl a process not unlike that used in making tapestry is used, with hundreds of tiny the weft threads of the fabric. Though all Indian textiles use an amazing range and combination of colours, it is in these shawls that a new dimension is added to the art of colour combination. It is said that some 300 tints of vegetable dyes were once used in shawl weaving. The textile museum has been rearranged, and work is in progress to display the textiles according to their usage. There are so many other extraordinary items in this museum that it is impossible to mention them all here. However, the history of textiles-traced through the representations in ancient paintings, like those from Ajanta and the Lepakshi temple, and through sculptures down the ages - testifies to a long-standing, innate love of textiles in India. Each region and state developed its own technique. Skill and style, for which it is famous to this day. At present the battle against synthetic fibers and machine made products continues, and it it museums like this that capture the essence of a very great artistic tradition of hand-made textile production in this country. The Calico Museum Of Textiles, Shanti Bagh Area, Ahmedabad, Gujrat. Hours : 10 am-12.30 pm and 2.30 pm-5.30 pm except on Wednesdays and Government Holidays. Suggested Viewing time: Two hours.

Preserving our Textile Traditions: The Calico Museum of Textiles

While I was writing my previous post, I started drifting back to the time when we had visited Ahmedabad in the early 80s. The most vivid memory of the visit was a trip to see the Calico Museum of Textiles My father had suggested that we take a trip to see the museum since we did not have much to do with ourselves during those holidays (needless to say it was before people got addicted to TV shows or video-games !!) Gira Sarabhai, the daughter of philanthropist Ambalal Sarabhai, was a keen collector of fine old Indian textiles and had conceived establishing a Museum of Indian Textiles. In this endeavor, she collaborated with John Irwin, who was then keeper of the Indian Section of the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was appropriate that the museum, which was concerned with both the historical and technical study of Indian handicraft and industrial textiles, should be established in Ahmedabad, a town with a long history of fine woven, printed and embroidered textiles. By the early 50's however, the Museum started to concentrate its energy on the vast field of handicraft textiles.

The museum was like nothing I had expected. Set within the Sarabhai Retreat amid spacious lawns, the collection of old textiles was housed in two different structures: the Sarabhai-ni-Haveli, and another complex of buildings known as the Chauk. Dating back to 1930, the sprawling Haveli, with its inlaidmarble floors and spacious rooms situated within a picturesque garden, served for many years as the residence of the Sarabhai family. The Haveli now houses the vast collection of religious textiles and artifacts. The visitor is first greeted by a small reconstructed shrine to Shrinathji, before being guided to the gallery of Pichchwais and patachitras which record the stories of the Vallabh Sampradaya. The Haveli is also home to a comprehensive collection of miniatures, Jain artifacts and South Indian Bronzes. The Chauk, a complex of old buildings around a swimming pool has been transformed by facades of carved wood and mud construction to resemble typical traditional Gujarati houses. Kalamkaaris, Mughal court textiles, woven and brocaded fabrics, yarn resist-dyed textiles and tie-dyed textiles are all housed within the Chauk. Also displayed nearby are the larger pieces such as Mughal tents and carpets. The museum is unique in the sense that it not only houses over 5 centuries of Indias rich textile heritage, it also does so in a setting that transports the visitor to another era. The design of the museum is itself beautiful as well as functional in the purpose that it serves. It is appropriate that these beautiful textiles are displayed in such an aesthetically pleasing setting. Much thought has gone into the preservation of these textiles which are therefore displayed in a strictly controlled environment. Light and humidity are carefully monitored as is the crowd at any given time. Not only is the museum important from the point of view of preserving the large collection of heritage textiles, it also serves as the leading source of reference material for surviving craftspeople. An ambitious Publications program was launched by the museum in its early days and has gained a world-wide reputation for its scholarly publications. Based on research by eminent Indian and International scholars, these publications have

aimed at providing a focus and setting a standard for all who wish to see Indian textiles studied seriously from a historical as well as technical point of view. To say that I was awestruck during my visit to the museum would be an understatement. Perhaps this was where my love of Indian textiles and design began. Please visit the Calico Museum if you find yourselves in or around Ahmedabad.

Posted by Harini Narayan at 12:35 PM