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Ganesha Thaaps of Saurashtra

Posted by
on September 05, 2014 at 01:51 PM

The folk art of making the Ganesha Thaap flourished till the first half of 1900s. With socio-economic changes in the post-independence era, and with easy availability of Ganesha images in printed posters and calendars, the laborious task of making Ganesha Thaaps slowly became obsolete. Dr. Gita Sheth Bhatt, a folk historian now based in Baroda, has been collecting Ganesh Thaaps over the past forty years. Exhibitions of such collections will rekindle awareness of one of our dying crafts...

© Courtesy of the writer

In rural India, for centuries, the womenfolk of the family by default became home-decorators. From their dawn-to-dusk list of chores of looking after the needs of each member of the family, fetching the water from the river or the well, cooking, cleaning vessels and washing clothes – when they found some respite, they made rangoli patterns in the courtyard every day, plaster the floor and walls with cow-dung mix sometimes decorating the walls with patterns made from pieces of mirrors, glass and broken bangles stuck in the still-damp plaster, and often embroidering cloth pieces with colourful threads and beads to create simple as well as elaborate toran-s for doors, chakla-s for walls and chandarwa-s for the ceilings. For these God-fearing communities, the toran-s, chakla-s and chandarva-s, were the medium to create images of the gods and goddesses they believed in and worshipped and this was their way of getting them to bless their homes and keep their families safe and sound.

But along with the images of the gods and goddesses, these women also included the familiar elements in their immediate environment – birds such as peacocks and hens, domestic animals like cows, buffaloes and goats, animals to be feared as lions and leopards; trees and bushes, flowers and fruits, rivers and streams, hills and mountains. The toran-s, chakla-s and chandarva-s were carefully structured and designed to fit the architectural elements they were meant to decorate.

There are many folk historians in Gujarat who have collected and documented these amazing examples of local skill, aesthetics and design. Dr. Gita Sheth Bhatt is one of them. With a doctorate in French Literature from the Sorbonne University, Paris, Dr. Gita Bhatt was originally a resident of Bhavnagar, who has made Vadodara her home over the last few years. She has also been passionately collecting and exhibiting examples of folk embroidery traditions of Saurashtra. Now, during the Ganesha Utsav, she has put together an exhibition of her Ganesha Thaaps (Chakla-s) at the Sarjan Art Gallery, Vadodara, which opens at September 5, inaugurated by Mrs. Radhikaraje Gaekwad.

Dr. Bhatt explains: “For us, everything begins with Ganesha. In the antique folk embroidery of Saurashtra, the Ganesh Thaap holds a very special place and significance. Its origin goes back to 1730, when Damojirao Gaekwad won over the territory of Amreli, Visavader, and Bagasra. Till 1947 they remained under the Gaekwadi rule. Since the first deity of Marathas has always been Ganesha, the Marathi influence on the folk psyche manifests itself abundantly in the making of the Ganesha Thaap, its colors and its infinite variations. One might even say that the tradition of making the Ganesha Thaap started as a tribute to the Gaekwad rulers and then spread all over Saurashtra.”

Ganesha Thaap stems from the words “Ganesha Sthapana”. As Ganesha is often invoked at the beginning of any auspicious event, in Saurashtra every young girl’s wedding trousseau begins with the creation of the Ganesha Thaap. “I have generally found that mainly the base fabric is yellow; once again, I believe this is the Marathi influence as yellow or haldi is considered the most auspicious color by them. The Ganesha Thaap is always in the shape of a house, triangular from the top and descending to a square base. The fertile artistic imagination of the people found total freedom in embroidering this most popular deity according to their own vision and expertise. In my 40 years’ of collecting Ganesha Thaaps, I have never come across two pieces with the same design, motifs or color combination!”

At the centre of the Ganesha Thaap, there is always the figure of the Ganesha, flanked by his two wives, Riddhi and Siddhi. Sometimes there are also the figures of his two sons, Laksha and Laabh. There are many birds and animals surrounding Ganesha, and his little mouse is mostly around. The older Thaaps generally have the Ganesha image drawn free-hand in a sense of glorious abandon. But in later days with the availability of hand block designs and stencils, the Ganeshas are more stylized. Yet the Thaaps reveal a mind-boggling variety in the depiction of Ganesha -- sitting Ganesha, standing Ganesha, sleeping Ganesha or even Dancing Ganesha. Ganesha is shown as a king, as a clown or there are even those Ganesha that are geometrically oriented. Then there were communities who made even beadwork Ganesha Thaaps, with varied motifs.

However, we have almost lost this traditional craft. No longer does a Saurashtrian girl’s trousseau begin with this lovingly made, one-of-a-kind Ganesha Thaap. 

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