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Danabhai Samatbhai Bhadru

Interview Summary

Danabhai is a master weaver from Jamthada, a village traditionally known for textile weaving. In his youth, his father Samatbhai made khatha or dhabda (quilts) for the khadi bhandar of Gadhshisha village. Although Danabhai went to school, studying did not interest him. He often accompanied his father to deliver his wares and started learning the craft aged 11 after asking for something of his own to weave. He recalls that his father used to tell of four generations of the family that were involved in weaving. His father, at the age of 103, is still actively involved in making dhabda. Inspired by this, Danabhai hopes to continue working as long as he can. Danabhai described weaving as some of the best exercise one can do, due to the constant movement; the weavers feel hungry and get a sound sleep after a hard day’s work!

Danabhai’s expertise lies in weaving shawls of different designs and textures. In 2005 he received a prestigious national merit certificate for his work from the then president of India, along with a prize of 10,000 rupees. Danabhai says it can take one and half months to make a high-value shawl, but just one day to make something simpler.

Out of Danabhai’s three surviving sons (Suresh, his eldest, has passed away) Pravin works at Muscat and the two others are involved in weaving. Mukesh has developed his skills in making bed sheets in particular; Arvind makes shawls. He showed us cotton-woven bed sheets of 70 inches costing 1125 Rupees and double bed sheets of 90 inches costing 2500 Rupees that Mukesh had made. Explaining the process of weaving, Danabhai said that the raw materials are usually procured from wholesalers (in his case, a man called Kantibhai) and they are paid according to the work they complete in a day. They can earn 300 to 400 rupees for a day’s work.

Dhabla shawls are a basic necessity in the semi-desert of the Rann of Kutch. The shawls are woven on a traditional pit-loom, using both cotton and woollen yarn. The weaving starts out with a plain weave, which is then embellished with a characteristic weft. The first stage that deals with individual threads is a complex one and entails several tedious steps, but is an essential starting-point. Since the fatka shal was introduced, their production has increased tremendously, although Danabhai has preserved his hathshal as a souvenir. In weaving on a fatka shal, first, warp of the desired colour is fixed on the loom. The number of yarn threads required by the design are tied and connected to the pedals. When the pedal is operated, the particular warp thread comes up, making way for the weft thread to pass through. The weave is then completed using a simple up and down technique. For shawls, the weavers primarily use coarse sheep wool. They are able to accurately and directly replicate complex motifs on the fabric. The designs are embedded by twisting loose white cotton or woollen yarn around a group of two or three warp threads and incorporating them into the cloth, creating a bead-like appearance on the surface. Danabhai explains how the weavers must be careful in following the whole of the weaving process accurately, and how they must maintain the balance of the frame to stop it falling.

While weaving Danabhai told us that the elderly weavers often sing religious songs (bhajans) while the younger workers usually sing songs from films. The lively Danabhai also sang a line of a popular bhajanfor us, ‘ Payoji mene Ram Ratan Dhan Payo’ meaning, I earned precious wealth by worshipping Lord Rama; he connects this with his own weaving work which he sees as a gift from the almighty.

His family works from morning to evening for between eight to ten hours. If somebody visits them during this time, then their productivity is disrupted. Following their religious customs, the weavers do not work on certain days of the month (such as on the second day of the full moon). They are commonly followers of Ram Dev Pir, and the temple of Ram Dev is situated in front of Danabhai’s house in Jamthada. Danabhai also spoke about the four main divisions within his caste which include bhadru, lehuvaand siju.

In earlier times, Danabhai feels that weaving was difficult as the threads made on a hand wheel, called rantia kantela, were rough and uneven. His family have experienced periods where they struggled to make ends meet too, though now he is content with Kantibhai his wholesaler’s orders. In the winter months when the local demand increases, he also becomes a peddlar and visits a number of villages including Gadhshisha and Devpar to sell his shawls. He has sold to and taken orders from many communities, particularly the Rabari and Patel. Like many other crafts, weaving also calls for apprenticeships. Danabhai teaches his school-going grandsons weaving during their holidays. Agreeing with the opinions of other weavers, Danabhai strongly feels that it is only due to the work of women in the family that they are able to regularly complete a good amount of weaving. They help in warping, arranging the thread lengthwise from the bundle and reeling the bobbin (nala) with thread.

Now in his early sixties, Danbhai has no complaints with life. He feels that whatever years he will live from now on count as his bonus years.